Rafy Hay considers Corbyn’s reshuffle and the disunity of Labour
Last week we saw Jeremy Corbyn’s protracted shadow cabinet reshuffle, the first since his landslide leadership victory in September 2015. Lo and behold, the papers were filled with apocalyptic headlines about instability and rebellion. Scaremongering over Jeremy Corbyn’s activities is hardly a new pastime for this country’s newspapers (see this, erm, “imaginative” piece from the Mail On Sunday). The reshuffle, however, has broken new ground in terms of ridiculous press reactions.
Astonishingly, even the supposedly-impartial BBC has been front and centre with theatrical coverage, despite a reshuffle being a fairly mundane and standard process. To inject some unneeded spice into the reshuffle, the BBC found Stephen Doughty, an obscure MP in the shadow cabinet thinking of resigning, and persuaded him to perform his resignation live on air. In a blog post (later removed), Andrew Alexander, a mid-level editor for Daily Politics, said: “we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact”.
Labour has lodged a complaint to the BBC about assuming such a politically partial position. The BBC should be wary of alienating one of its few political allies at a time when its budget and position are in such a precarious position—the Conservative government has made little attempt to hide its hostility to the public broadcaster. A clumsy show of the BBC’s partiality on this scale is just the sort of ammunition the Tories need.
The “protest resignation” has been a prolific feature of this reshuffle. To date, confirmed protest resignations from the shadow cabinet include: shadow rail minister Jonathan Reynolds, shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty, shadow Armed Forces minister Kevan Jones and shadow Attorney General Catherine McKinnell. None are exactly household names, and Corbyn’s cabinet may well be stronger without these dissenting elements. Also, they were perfectly within their rights to decline a place on the shadow cabinet, and the British political system already has mechanisms in place for this eventuality. However, these petty actions, have been blown up to ridiculous significance in the Murdoch press and beyond.
This does a disservice to Labour party members, who many MPs seem to have forgotten decisively voted Corbyn in, easily doubling any other candidate. MPs failing to stand up for their members’ voting preferences and interests, even if done in a sincere effort to support their personal beliefs, is profoundly anti-democratic and unfair. MPs who so flagrantly disregard the wishes of their electors may well be pushing Labour in a much more “unelectable” direction than Corbyn’s leadership ever could.
Disunity is an election-killer far more potent than any set of policies. Labour MPs would do well to dig out their nineteenth-century British politics textbooks (given so many of them studied PPE these should be readily available). After a split in 1846, the Conservative party were consigned to political weakness and electoral impotence throughout the mid-nineteenth century. This allowed the Whigs, and their later incarnation as the Liberal Party, to conclude a wide-ranging series of political reforms, in effect choosing the ideological direction of Britain, one of free trade, expanded enfranchisement, and economic liberalism. The influence of Palmerston, Gladstone, Russell and the other Liberal powerhouses allowed free reign by Conservative disunity is still felt today.
Labour MPs must learn the lessons of the past now and commit to standing behind their democratically-elected leader as a strong bloc against Conservative dominance. Jez Corbyn himself could do a lot better at disciplining his wayward subordinates, but at the final count it is clear that disruptive MPs are causing Labour far more problems than they purport to be solving, and that a united front against the Conservative government would serve their constituents and party far better than their current actions.
Featured image credit: The Guardian