Being Leader of the Opposition, like being Vice-President of the USA, must be a thankless task; it’s the political silver medal, No.2 in the charts, the runner-up as opposed to being the winner. Legendary Leeds United captain Billy Bremner reflected the frustrating failure of his team to win as many trophies as they deserved by titling his ghost-written autobiography, ‘You Get Nowt for Being Second’, and he had a point. I couldn’t help but think of that when hearing of the protracted Shadow Cabinet reshuffle undertaken at a snail’s pace by laidback Labour boss-man Jeremy Corbyn over the past few days. Does anyone outside of the Westminster bubble really care?
Ever since Hilary Benn’s headline-grabbing speech during the recent Commons debate on Syria – when the Shadow Foreign Secretary earned a euphoric round of applause while passionately opposing his leader’s viewpoint – rumours have been rife that Citizen Corbyn planned to ‘take out’ the lingering neo-Blairite faction of his frontbench team once the New Year came around. Although Benn remains in his somewhat fragile position, acutely aware any further public contradictions of Corbyn policy might cause him to lose it, heads have indeed rolled.
The most notable casualty of the reshuffle is Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle; her appointment seemed odd considering she was pro-Trident, in direct opposition to the man who appointed her; but it apparently reflected Corbyn’s desire to break the mould by surrounding himself with a diverse range of opinions. Perhaps the danger signs were there when Ken Livingstone was recruited to join Eagle in a review of the party’s defence policy. She’s been replaced by Emily Thornberry, the ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ Jenni Murray who was sacked from Ed Miliband’s shower during the last election for sneering at the working-class in an infamous ‘white van’ tweet; crucially, she’s anti-Trident, which will make Red Ken happy and also serves to rubbish Jezza’s ‘new politics’ manifesto.
Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden has paid the price for criticising Corbyn’s response to the Paris Attacks and for his association with the less enlightened wing of the Stop the War coalition. McFadden’s sacking has provoked the resignations of two other frontbenchers, Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty, whereas another resignation came in the shape of Kevan Jones, who quit following Maria Eagle’s dismissal. Eagle has now been shunted down to Shadow Culture Secretary, replacing Michael Dugher (yes, I’m scratching my head at some of these unknown knowns as well). Dugher’s parting gesture was to rebuff suggestions he was sacked for incompetence and disloyalty by tweeting ‘I’m not sure it’s sensible for the leader and his office to get into a debate about loyalty or competence’.
When slouched on the frontbench with the look of a man waiting for the minibus to take him to the daycare centre, Corbyn’s closest companions always appear to be ‘This Week’ comedy socialist Dianne Abbott and Paedofinder General Tom Watson, neither of whom inspire much in the way of confidence outside of Momentum, the twenty-first century equivalent of Militant, the Trotskyist group that helped keep Labour out of power in the 80s. Corbyn’s brief ambition to have his frontbench represented by some of those who aren’t rooted on the far-left of the party appears to have been a short-lived experiment. This reshuffle has promoted MPs more in tune with Jezza’s thinking and therefore makes Labour look more unelectable than ever.
The main surprise when Corbyn was elected Labour leader was his apparent willingness to heal the evident divide within his party by inviting his ideological opponents to join his team; even though Andy Burnham was the lone fellow rival in the leadership contest to accept the invitation, most of the Miliband mob refused to serve under Jezza; and those that lingered from the previous leader’s crew didn’t compromise their view of Corbyn’s principles once installed on the new-look frontbench, prompting talk of an SDP-style defection to the depleted Lib-Dems.
That hasn’t yet happened, but as the casualties of this week’s reshuffle all belong to what Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell dismissed as a right-wing clique, reducing further any evidence of opinions that don’t compliment those of the leader, we now have what could be called a left-wing clique fully in charge of Labour’s fortunes, for the first real time since the Michael Foot era; and we all know what that led to.
A split is already present, but a challenge to Corbyn and his pitiful posse of deluded disciples now seems a question of not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Considering the fact that Labour were obliterated in their Scottish heartlands at the last election and they didn’t poll much better in the rest of the country, it was undeniable some form of drastic change was required to make the party a formidable challenge to a Tory Government that are currently doing what the hell they like (and are only being taken down a peg or two by the mass of Lib-Dems in the Lords); but a left-wing coup isn’t the way forwards; it’s the way backwards. And the Tories know it all too well, which is why they’re looking even smugger and arrogant than usual at the moment.
So, this is ‘the new politics’ – and let’s not confuse the new meaning of that vacuous phrase with the one used at the formation of the coalition in 2010: An online army of gullible young recruits to the cause who have been hoodwinked into believing the Labour past is the Labour future, as well as those veteran socialists who have re-emerged having learned nothing from the last thirty years, eager to rekindle naive dreams that are even more unrealisable in 2016 than they were in 1986. Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to press the red button clearly doesn’t apply to his own party, whose self-destruction he and his team are busily engaged in while those who don’t subscribe to Dave and Gideon’s vision despair.
© The Editor