Corbyn warned against ‘revenge reshuffle’ targeting dissidents

MP facing potential axe from shadow front bench says internal debate is important

Labour MPs have warned Jeremy Corbyn against a "revenge reshuffle" of his shadow cabinet, which would move leading critics of his leadership from their posts. The Labour leader is expected to reshuffle the front bench later this week and media leaks suggest he is planning to move shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle.

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher, who is widely reported to be facing the sack, said a reshuffle aimed at sidelining dissent would be inconsistent with Mr Corbyn's stated commitment to internal debate. Mr Dugher said that previous leaders had been reluctant to pursue major reshuffles.

“They do try and hold the party together, they do recognise that the Labour party is a broad church, not a religious cult, that you need people of different backgrounds and try and get the best possible talents,” he told the BBC.

Air strikes

Mr Benn


and Ms Eagle supported the Conservative government in last month’s vote to authorise air strikes in


, which Mr Corbyn and most other Labour MPs opposed. Mr Benn’s speech in favour of the bombing campaign was greeted by applause in the House of Commons, embarrassed Mr Corbyn and sparked speculation that the shadow foreign secretary could be a future challenger for the Labour leadership.

Unlike the Labour leader, Ms Eagle opposes the abolition of the Trident nuclear missile programme, which will be the subject of a Commons vote in the spring. Mr Corbyn’s supporters say he is entitled to reshuffle his front bench, and that changes should not be perceived as acts of revenge on those who disagree with him.

Labour's former policy coordinator Jon Cruddas, who nominated Mr Corbyn for the leadership but is not closely aligned to him, acknowledged that the party is suffering a profound crisis. But he said he understood why the leader might wish to avoid policy clashes with his shadow cabinet similar to that over Syria.


“We have to have unity at the top of the party on the outstanding issues of our time,” he said.

Two of the party's newest MPs, elected in 2015, on Sunday joined those warning against a reshuffle, which Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon and the son of former leader Neil Kinnock, said it would be a waste of time and energy.

"A reshuffle would simply leave people confused about what this fabled 'new kind of politics' is all about," he wrote in The Observer. Writing in the same newspaper, Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Philipps said there was nothing new about Mr Corbyn's "new politics", which involved the same leaking and briefing as before.

“If Jeremy wants to get discipline through scare stories on reshuffles, I’d much rather he was straight-talking. If I were him I would stand up in the first PLP meeting of 2016 and bellow: ‘All of you, pack it in! Let’s stop bleeding moaning like a child who got clothes instead of an Xbox at Christmas and crack on with changing the sodding world’,” she wrote.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times