With the end of the Labour reshuffle in sight, now seems to be the time to reflect on the recent changes that have taken place under Jeremy Corbyn’s premiership, not to mention their prospective consequences. Firstly, does this normal and procedural political act taken by the Labour Party leader effectively counter the claims of a ‘weak leadership’? This label has of course been one often applied to Corbyn by the Parliamentary Labour Party and the wider media. Well as it turns out, not at all.
In fact, rather than bring up the nature of leadership at such an inconvenient time, his own MPs now bemoan the distinct ‘lack of democracy’ involved in the reshuffle. This comes after Corbyn’s refusal to allow the PLP to help choose their own posts rather than purely Corbyn himself. This idea is unfortunately currently of little traction with the Labour Party membership, especially given the size of his very recent mandate they themselves awarded him. This in turn has ignited fears within the PLP of Corbyn seizing the opportunity to carry out a ruthless spring-cleaning of the opposition benches.
So what’s changed? Well, specifically, the re-appointment of John McDonnell as Chancellor comes as no surprise, given their closely held views on the importance of fundamental economic change within the workplace. As well as this, the appointment of Emily Thornberry as Shadow Foreign Secretary took place. Planting a political ally in the important post previously held by the inimitably loyal Hilary Benn seemed like folly to some MPs, a conspiracy to others. We’ll let you decide which one.
Perhaps the most controversial decision taken so far in the reshuffle was the ‘shock’ dismissal of Rosie Winterton. The former chief whip who had held the post since 2010 claimed that the shock factor here amounted to her being contacted via telephone, as opposed to being sacked in person. This prompted outrage from MPs who may have considered re-joining the political fold. The most dramatic instance of this came when, in protest, two rather forgettable junior whips resigned from their posts, prompting an outcry that Corbyn is ‘too decisive’ from backbenchers. It would appear that being both too decisive and too weak as a leader doesn’t sit well with the members of the PLP.
In light of these events, the two immediate and burning questions that present themselves for many, are: does the Labour Party sufficiently represent the different, albeit warring factions within it? And, secondly, does it have the wherewithal to take the fight to the Tories effectively? No reshuffle is devoid of disappointments and uncertainty for those who endure them, and surely this one is no exception.
Whilst Corbyn has been carrying out his democratic obligations to his party, others within it have conflated the description of his actions with the angry rhetoric of those fighting political injustice. These events merely underline the attitude of abject hostility within the PLP; a lack of vision and strategy would be a nicer way of phrasing it. The near-uniform opposition towards him (in stark contrast to the CLP membership) now more than ever needs to cease in order for Labour to become united and a powerful force in politics once again.