UK Labour supporters may get say in front bench selections

Proposal floated as Jeremy Corbyn set to be confirmed as leader after bitter campaign

Labour MPs could regain the right to elect the shadow cabinet under a proposal to be considered on Tuesday by the National Executive Committee, the party's main rule-making body. But supporters of Jeremy Corbyn want to allow MPs to choose only a third of the front bench, with party members and the leader himself each choosing a third.

Mr Corbyn is expected to win re-election as leader by a comfortable margin next Saturday, a day before Labour's annual conference begins in Liverpool. Most of the shadow cabinet resigned after a vote of no confidence in the leader won the support of 80 per cent of MPs. When Mr Corbyn refused to step down, former work and pensions spokesman Owen Smith challenged him for the leadership.

Some former frontbenchers have suggested in recent days that they would return to a shadow cabinet under Mr Corbyn's leadership if it is elected by the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), as it was until 2011. Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, a close ally of the leader, said the party membership, which supports the leader, should also have a say.

“I think the idea that’s come out that the PLP potentially could elect a certain percentage of the shadow cabinet, the leader another percentage and the membership another percentage is a genuine idea and something that should be discussed and reviewed,” he said.


The bitterness of the divisions within Labour were set to be highlighted on Monday night in a BBC Panorama programme, Labour: Is the party over?, featuring interviews with senior party figures. Former leader Neil Kinnock said that, because of Mr Corbyn's leadership, he did not expect Labour to win another general election in his lifetime.

“Not just in my lifetime but stretching back to the 1930s, by any examination this is the greatest crisis that the Labour Party has faced,” he said.

Conciliatory note

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said some of Mr Corbyn’s critics in the parliamentary party deserved to be deselected as Labour candidates before the next general election. “I think anybody who behaves in a way that is totally disrespectful and out with the culture of the Labour Party is basically asking to be held to account,” he said.

Another programme on Monday night, Channel 4's Dispatches, showed covertly recorded interviews with members of Momentum, a group that backs Mr Corbyn. The interviews suggested Momentum members were sometimes advised to be "discreet" about their affiliation during the leadership election.

Mr Corbyn struck a conciliatory note on Monday, promising that, if he was confirmed as leader, he would “reach out” to Labour MPs who had rebelled against his leadership.

“I have made it my business to talk to quite a lot of Labour MPs and will continue to do so. I hope that they will understand that we’ve been elected as Labour MPs – I am one myself, of course – and it is a huge honour and a responsibility and we have got to try and deliver for the people,” he told the BBC.

“It doesn’t mean everyone agrees on everything all of the time, that I understand. But the general direction – of opposition to austerity, opposing the Tories on grammar schools – those are the kind of things that unite the party these days.”

Later, Mr Corbyn told the online parenting network Mumsnet that his favourite book was James Joyce's Ulysses, and that he had read it at least three times.

"The prize has to go to Ulysses on the grounds that it's very hard to understand the first time and doesn't get much easier on the third or fourth reading of it. I first read it as my companion on a complicated series of trains travelling from London to Marrakech," he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times