Monday 26 September 2016

Jeremy Corbyn facing Labour backlash over 'revenge reshuffle'

Published 06/01/2016 | 16:29

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

The latest Labour frontbencher to quit over Jeremy Corbyn's so-called "revenge reshuffle" has accused the party leadership of dishonesty and warned that voters would be dismayed by the changes.

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Kevan Jones claimed his former boss Maria Eagle, a supporter of Trident, had been moved from the defence brief against her will despite briefings that taking on the shadow culture secretary role was her "dream".

The former shadow defence spokesman said there had been "nothing straightforward or honest" about the way the reshuffle had been carried out and claimed Labour was being run in a "very top-down" manner.

Mr Corbyn was hit with three quick-fire resignations from his front bench after he sacked two "disloyal" senior figures and promoted a Trident opponent in a reshuffle that took more than 30 hours.

Mr Jones followed Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty in walking out, citing differences with the Labour leader on key policy issues and the treatment of their colleagues.

The North Durham MP told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "Jeremy was elected with the strapline 'straight talking, honest politics'. There has been nothing straightforward or honest about what's gone on over the last 48 hours.

"Maria, it's now being briefed that this was her dream job and she wanted to do it. That is not the case. She did not want to move. She made that point very clear.

"Both Maria and myself were appointed when Jeremy was elected. He knew our views on the nuclear deterrent."

Mr Jones said he "personally got on very well" with Mr Corbyn but believed "the people around him are advising him very badly".

"If you agree with the leader, that's fine, if you don't then there is no entering into discussions," he added.

The MP, a minister under Gordon Brown, said Tom Watson believed that appointing Emily Thornberry as shadow defence secretary was a mistake - something the deputy leader denied on Twitter.

"We have got to be credible on defence in the country and I think appointing Emily is a mistake," Mr Jones said. "So did Tom Watson."

He claimed thousands of voters who cared about defence policy would be alienated and warned that Labour faced becoming a "protest party and a talking shop".

"The idea that our defence policy is being controlled by a north London part of the party will be looked on in dismay by many people who actually have a deep, passionate care about defence," he added.

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty quit as shadow foreign affairs minister live on television, telling the BBC's Daily Politics programme that he had "looked at his own conscience" and was stepping down after the leader's office told "lies" about the reasons why Europe spokesman Pat McFadden had been dismissed.

Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds said he was resigning as shadow rail minister because he could not "in good conscience endorse the world view of the Stop the War Coalition" - a group closely linked to Mr Corbyn.

Speculation is growing that more frontbenchers could choose to leave in the wake of the shake-up, which also saw Michael Dugher ejected from the culture brief for "incompetence" and "disloyalty".

Ms Eagle praised Mr Jones for his "outstanding contribution to supporting and protecting our armed forces" and said it was a "privilege to work" with him.

Mr Corbyn stopped short of shifting Hilary Benn from his position as shadow foreign secretary despite their high-profile clash over Syria air strikes.

But the leader's allies said they had secured an "agreement" from Mr Benn that there would be no repeat of the air strikes situation - where he spoke in the Commons opposing the leader's position.

Mr Benn insisted he had not been gagged by the leadership.

He said: "I haven't been muzzled. I'm going to be carrying on doing my job exactly as before, which is speaking for Labour on foreign policy, supporting Jeremy Corbyn and campaigning really hard to get Labour elected at the next general election."

Mr Benn said he was "really sad to lose" Mr Doughty from the front bench, adding he would "miss his wisdom, insight and comradeship".

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon used the chaos to claim that Labour was a threat to national security.

He said: "This reshuffle shows that a divided Labour Party is a threat to national security. The Labour Party has a leader who would abolish the armed forces and withdraw from Nato, a shadow chancellor who wanted to disband MI5, and now a shadow defence secretary who would scrap our nuclear deterrent.

"North Korea's deeply disturbing claim to have exploded its first hydrogen bomb underlines the importance of taking our national security seriously, not handing it to a Labour Party that would unilaterally disarm Britain."

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell dismissed the trio who have quit as part of a "narrow right-wing clique".

"We have had a few junior members resign today and of course that's their right but they do all come from a sort of a narrow right-wing clique within the Labour Party based around the organisation Progress, largely," he told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show .

"I don't think they've really ever accepted Jeremy's mandate. I'm afraid they have to recognise that Jeremy got elected with the largest mandate of any political leader from any political party in our history.

"I'm afraid they haven't respected that leadership election result."

Labour MP John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) told BBC News he was "losing hope" that the leadership was able - or even willing - to make sure the party stood a chance of winning the 2020 general election.

"The people who are running the Labour Party, I'm afraid, are not doing so in a manner that is likely to put us anywhere near being able to be a credible force at the next election," he said.

"Having seen three months of these people in office, I am losing hope that they will actually properly orientate themselves to the job of being a credible force that can command the centre and a broad coalition within the country.

"I am no longer convinced that that's what they want to do.

"I very much hope that this is a low point in the Labour Party's history that we improve from. I'm afraid I don't have confidence that will be the case.

"But we have to try to move on from this."

The former Number 10 aide to Gordon Brown said Mr McDonnell's "clique" jibe was "a deeply insulting thing to say to people who have given good service to the Labour Party, who agreed to go and serve in Jeremy's frontbench despite the clear differences they had".

It was "pretty disgraceful conduct from the leader of a party that seeks to govern", he said.

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