David Holt BBC Flickr

‘Revenge Reshuffle’: Winners and Losers

by Matthew Turner

It had to be done, but was there ever a good time? Jeremy Corbyn has risked the wrath of so-called ‘moderate’ Labour MPs through an arduous shadow cabinet reshuffle. However, the poor organisational skills of the Labour leadership will mean very little in the long-term if the risk pays off and Corbyn can finally rely on his own frontbench.


Jeremy Corbyn.

Whilst Corbyn will undoubtedly take some flak for his reshuffle in the coming days, the clear and present truth is that it had to be done at some stage. For his shadow cabinet to be effective, Corbyn needs a team he can trust around him and this reshuffle goes some way towards making that a reality. If the public are to understand what Corbyn’s Labour truly stands for, it is imperative he has people who are able to communicate the message to the media and public without consistent divergence.

A crack of the whip was needed, and the sackings of dissenters Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden are a blatant warning to any other frontbenchers who presume vacuous public disloyalty is somehow acceptable in the new kind of politics Corbyn espouses. (Plot twist: it never was.)

The anti-Trident lobby.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will certainly be happy with Corbyn’s reshuffle. With Maria Eagle moved to the shadow culture secretary role vacated by Dugher, the defence brief was handed to unilateralist Emily Thornberry,swiftly ensuring the resignation of pro-Trident shadow defence minister Kevan Jones.

With a parliamentary vote on Trident inevitable at some stage, the massive divide between the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) and the membership will be clear to see, but the addition of Thornberry to the frontbench has huge implications for Corbyn’s efforts to force Labour to adopt a unilateralist policy and will provide a massive boost to his leadership.

Hilary Benn and the ‘moderate’ voice.

Despite losing a couple of apparent ‘heavyweights’ who everybody outside of the Westminster bubble still had to Google, the main voice in Corbyn’s cabinet for ‘moderate’ swathes of the PLP, Hilary Benn, has kept his job. Corbyn and Benn have reportedly come to an agreement which will avoid a Syria-style split in the future, with disagreements hashed out in private and dissent being voiced from the backbenches instead of the despatch box.

Although it is alleged many of Corbyn’s allies urged him to sack Benn after his rousing speech in favour of military intervention, the threat of a mass walk-out seems to have made up Corbyn’s mind for him. Despite Benn’s supposed ‘gagging order’, the fact he is retaining his position as shadow foreign secretary is being regarded as a victory for the PLP.


Michael Dugher.

The first casualty of Corbyn’s reshuffle was none other than Michael Dugher, now former shadow culture secretary. As a prominent and frequent critic of the leadership, it is no real surprise that his serial dissent led him to be dismissed from his post. Unfortunately, he then went to talk about his exit on Twitter with the diplomatic prowess of a hand grenade, further enraging Corbynites whilst simultaneously issuing a rallying call to dozens of ‘moderate’ MPs to put out tweets of mourning as if he had suddenly died.

Despite this, it goes without saying the logic behind his removal is entirely sound. As Owen Jones rightly points out, Jeremy Corbyn has tolerated an unprecedented amount of open dissent from his frontbench since he won the leadership contest in September. Any effective communications strategy needs to involve a unified, collective message for the public to chew over as opposed to a thousand and one contradictions.

With typical good grace, Dugher has changed his Twitter bio to ‘Sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for too much straight talking, honest politics’, cementing his position as one of the biggest losers of the so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’.

The #RailRipOff campaign.

As much as a reshuffle was necessary, the timing of it left a lot to be desired. On Monday morning, I was thrilled to see Jeremy Corbyn joining a rally outside Kings Cross station in support of the renationalisation of our railway network. As Labour and Momentum activists pitched up at train stations to canvass backed up by a visible online campaign, I thought to myself: ‘You know what? Today might be a win for us.’

But by midday it was being reported that Jeremy Corbyn was to start holding meetings with members of the shadow cabinet, creating a media frenzy and bitter Twitter spats that completely overshadowed the entire crusade. One of my main criticisms of the Labour leadership so far is that their communications and public relations efforts need to hugely improve this year, and the whole ‘revenge reshuffle’ ordeal illustrates why perfectly.

Corbyn’s advisors.

This leads on to the final losers of the reshuffle, Seumas Milne & co. Whilst Milne does offer an effective and credible critique of 21st century western, neoliberal hegemony and in my opinion deserves a place in the leadership team, the organisation of the reshuffle was, frankly, a bit of a shambles.

The minor changes made could have undoubtedly been made a lot quicker. As we head into an indefensible third day of reshuffle-related madness, all of our resources should be pooled into slamming the despicable Housing and Planning Bill, which amounts to nothing more than social cleansing. What about the huge divide in the Conservatives regarding the UK’s membership of the European Union? Or how they ignored numerous warnings to pursue cutting flood defences to the bone? The unprofessional, chaotic nature of the reshuffle took attention away from all of these pertinent issues when they should have been the main focus in the first place.

Photo: David Holt/BBC/Flickr

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Published 7th January 2016

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