Plans to politically imprison Jeremy Corbyn by reintroducing elections to the shadow cabinet have been shelved after it emerged that the change would require the agreement of the party conference as well as two-thirds of Labour MPs.
There had been calls by his opponents to restore the elections, which they believe would bring victory for candidates on a mainstream slate who could limit his freedom of manoeuvre and allow shadow cabinet members to say they work to a mandate provided by the Parliamentary Labour party (PLP).
However, no proposals have been put to the chairman of the PLP, John Cryer. He needs to be given seven days’ notice for something to be put on the agenda of the PLP, which is due to meet on Monday to bid farewell to Harriet Harman as the interim leader.
Cryer and other party officials have been told the reintroduction of shadow cabinet elections, which were abolished by Ed Miliband, would necessitate a rule change passed at the party conference, something the unions would oppose if Corbyn did not support it.
Barry Sheerman, the senior Labour MP and former chairman of the education select committee, had called for a change to the standing orders, which requires a two-thirds majority of MPs.
Corbyn at one stage said he would reintroduce shadow cabinet elections, but has since backtracked, and his allies are telling senior MPs he wants to appoint a shadow cabinet reflecting all the party’s talents.
Senior figures in the shadow cabinet are still unclear whether they should accept a post in a Corbyn-led cabinet, with many including Andy Burnham still hoping that party members will reflect at the last minute on the threat to the party’s electability if Corbyn becomes the leader. However, Corbyn was still drawing huge crowds at his regional rallies and his supporters were confident his support was not slipping.
As many as 150,000 ballot papers were sent out late last week and Yvette Cooper’s camp are still hoping her recent strong performances, including on the migration crisis, will lead to a late surge for her. There is fury in her camp with the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, for apparently legitimising Corbyn by saying the party would need to rally round his leadership.
One member of Cooper’s team said: “There is still everything to play for and he is giving the impression it is all over and anyway a Corbyn victory is not too much of a problem.”
Burnham’s team are equally hopeful they can pull through as long as they get to the final round of voting on 12 September.
Umunna’s bridge-building exercise was conditional, since he said he could not support a Corbyn leadership if the Islington North MP advocated withdrawal from Nato or the European Union, unilateral nuclear disarmament or big rises in businesses taxes. Umunna’s allies think Corbyn is in a mood to compromise on policy and there is no future for party modernisers if they sound as if they are opposed to the influx of new members. “There will have to be very direct conversations about his platform,” one shadow cabinet member said, but others have insisted there can be no accommodation with Corbyn’s politics.
The dilemma for party modernisers is whether they think their cause will benefit most by cooperating with Corbyn, and expecting him to implode as early as the local elections in 2017, or instead refusing to join his leadership team out of principle, risking the charge of disloyalty.
One advocate of resistance said: “How can you honestly answer the question if it is put to you ‘do you want Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister?’ We tried to cooperate with Ed Miliband’s leadership for four years and it did not do us much good. You end up defending things you don’t believe and get accused of being a careerist.”
At present, there is no collective view on how to respond, and some fear their views will no longer be heard if they are not a frontbench spokesperson. But one shadow cabinet member said as many as eight members of the current shadow cabinet are minded to sit out Corbyn’s leadership and conduct their politics elsewhere: They said: “It’s not about engineering a split in the party. The Corbyn camp will try to pick us off one by one, and some will cooperate, but as it stands a group will not.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd September 2015 18.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010