Reshuffles are as much a feature of the British political landscape as Prime Minister’s Questions or dodgy jokes made by MPs in the run up to elections. They usually generate a few newspaper articles and some speculation, but then tend to pass into the political oblivion. They are accepted as the right of the party leader to promote and demote, to reward and rebuke, and essentially to ensure that collective cabinet responsibility is achieved.
However, following a week of intense and aggressive media coverage, one might be forgiven for believing that reshuffles are an alien concept to British politics, ushered in by Corbyn to seek personal revenge on those who have displeased him. The so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’ suggests Corbyn is personally punishing victims, such as Pat McFadden, because he is petty and vindictive, not because ministers have constantly openly defied and undermined him, and in doing so failed to reflect the wishes of the membership.
Cameron’s 2012 reshuffle was described as re-shaping, a term that carries none of the negative connotations of ‘revenge’. Blair himself orchestrated multiple reshuffles without derision or vilification. Why then is it unreasonable for Corbyn to seek to impose cohesion?
Of course, it is important to question and scrutinise Corbyn’s handling of the situation, especially as this reshuffle was only of a shadow cabinet, as opposed to the real thing. Taking over 30 hours, allowing for speculation to go on for far too long and for the spreading of mixed messages from Corbyn and his backroom staff; this reshuffle did not help Corbyn look like a credible leader.
However, there must be equal scrutiny on the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and their response. The PLP create an image of Corbyn as seeking to impose his dogmatic beliefs, removing any and all who speak out against him. What they forget however is that Corbyn was democratically elected with a colossal personal mandate of 59.5%. The PLP would rather deny that Corbyn is what the membership want rather than look at their own serious internal problems, which inevitably led to the crushing defeat of 2015. As long as the Party refuse to recognise that Corbyn is what the membership want, and miserably try to prop up the corpse of the centre right within Labour, the Party cannot progress.
Although granting a free vote on the upcoming Trident debate, Corbyn has made it clear that official party policy will stand in opposition to renewal. Replacing pro-Trident Maria Eagle with Emily Thornberry, who proposes unilateral nuclear disarmament, whilst having Ken Livingstone as the head of the Defence Review advocating the same, strengthens Corbyn’s position as leader, whilst mitigating the worst impacts of a MP rebellion.
Corbyn has been accused of being too introspective, focusing on fighting internal factions of the Party as opposed to fighting the bigger threat, the Conservatives. Yet the same can be said of the media, whose obsessive focus on the reshuffle has enabled the Conservatives to get off lightly for ushering in more ideological cuts, whose devastating consequences have been most apparent in the wake of the floods. The same can also be said for the cabinet ministers who spent their three month tenure fighting Corbyn and not fighting the Conservatives. This reshuffle, although somewhat messy, has enabled Corbyn to solidify his position within the Party and ensure that there is a joint front going forward. This joint front will be a far more formidable force to fight the Tories than a fractured party might.
Image credit: David Holt