Tuesday 10 December 2019

Benn may fall in Corbyn ‘purge’ of shadow cabinet

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Andrew Woodcock in London

BRITISH Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met senior aides at Westminster last night amid speculation he is gearing up for a reshuffle of his top team to "purge" key figures who disagree with him on issues such as Trident renewal and bombing Isil.

He held "preliminary" discussions with some of his shadow cabinet before potentially finalising a new line-up ahead of a meeting scheduled for lunchtime today.

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn's position is thought to be under threat after he made an impassioned Commons speech backing the extension of UK air strikes to Syria, while shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle's support for renewing the nuclear deterrent has also infuriated those close to Mr Corbyn.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a close Corbyn ally, said he believed it might be "better" for Mr Benn to be moved to another post and thought it "quite likely" he could be asked to swap jobs with shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, though he insisted he did not know whether this was what the leader was planning.

However, shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott denied she was being lined up to replace Mr Benn.

Staunch Corbyn supporter Clive Lewis also said he did not want to succeed Ms Eagle, although he stopped short of ruling it out altogether.

The reshuffle process could be complicated as the Commons is not yet back from its Christmas break.

Some believe the scope of the changes will end up narrower than mooted, as the leadership would face a major backlash in the parliamentary party if moderates were frozen out.

Mr Corbyn and his aides have gathered at his suite of offices on the parliamentary estate as they consider changes.

The Labour leader personally asked a group of reporters waiting outside to leave.

Shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher, whose own place is reported to be in jeopardy, has warned Mr Corbyn would end up with a "politburo of seven" at the top of the party if he attempted to surround himself with allies from the Labour left.

Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden pointed out the Syria decision was a free vote among Labour MPs, arguing that Mr Benn should not pay the price for his views - particularly given Mr Corbyn's own long history of rebellion.

Mr Livingstone denied the party was in "civil war".

"I think what Jeremy has to do is put together the team in the way he wants it and then refocus this debate about the economy," he said.

"Jeremy Corbyn has seen his support go up amongst the party membership."

Mr Livingstone added: "There is a problem if - as we had with the debate on Syria - our principal spokesman stands up at the end of the debate and puts a completely different line to the leader of the Labour Party.

"It might well be the case - and I have no knowledge of this - that it would be better to move Hilary Benn to something where he is in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn rather than where he is in disagreement."

Irish Independent

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