Pat McFadden, Labour’s shadow Europe minister has warned party leader Jeremy Corbyn that carrying out a “punishment” reshuffle of his cabinet could look petty and divisive. There have been multiple reports, such as these in The TelegraphandThe Daily Mail, based on briefings from unnamed sources over the last two weeks, saying that Corbyn is planning to sack “moderate” MPs from his shadow cabinet and replace them with MPs who share more of his left-wing ideals.
Specifically, the rumours are that Shadow Defence Secretary Angela Eagle and Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn could lose their positions for supporting the extension of the bombing campaign against ISIS into Syria.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday night, McFadden was keen to point out that the vote on Syria was a “one-line” whip, which means the Labour Party didn’t instruct their MPs how they should vote. If Corbyn punished MPs who didn’t even rebel against the party, it would look petty. Here is what he said, (emphasis ours).
If it’s about political disagreement, I think you have to pause here — especially if it’s about the Syria vote that took place last month because this was on a one-line whip, it was not on a three-line whip.
Also if you look at Jeremy Corbyn’s own record, his whole career is based on disagreeing with party leaders so I think there is a danger for him in this, in carrying out a reshuffle as a punishment for shadow ministers who disagree with him.
He has talked of an open, pluralist kind of politics but a reshuffle for that reason could end looking more petty and divisive than open and pluralist politics. I think that is a risk for him if he proceeds for that reason.
McFadden isn’t the only Labour MP to sound worried about the prospect of a revenge reshuffle in recent days. Speaking to BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme at the weekend, Labour MP Michael Dugher warned that a revenge reshuffle would be “inconsistent with what Jeremy has talked about since he got the leadership, which is about … having debate.” While Labour MP Wes Streeting tweeted that a revenge reshuffle would be the worst possible start to 2016 for Labour.
Writing in the Observer newspaper, Labour MP Jess Phillips was a bit more blunt. She said Labour thinking at the moment is like a “drunk game of Boggle.”
On Monday there were signs that the briefings on which the rumours of a revenge reshuffle have been based might not be entirely accurate. Labour MP Clive Lewis, who had been tipped to replace Maria Eagle as Shadow Defence Secretary, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that he hadn’t been approached about the position and was adamant he wouldn’t accept it if it were offered to him. While Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Dianne Abbott has dismissed as rumours the speculation that she will be offered the position of Shadow Foreign Secretary, saying it is “poppycock and piffle.”