Labour moderates have captured most of the key backbench offices in the parliamentary party in a show of strength designed to prove they can organise against Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, and will fight to influence party policy.
The taking of the key seats is also seen as a rebuttal of Corbyn’s decision to appoint controversial political allies to the leader’s office as well as a warning to Corbyn not to continue challenging existing party policy, such as nuclear defence. It has been described as the shadow shadow cabinet, and underlines the continuing tensions over policy.
The mix of appointments and elections to the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) departmental backbench committee has shown party moderates in control. Among those elected as committee chairs were Ian Austin (education), Mike Gapes (foreign affairs), Julie Elliott (housing and planning) and Chris Leslie (Treasury).
Other moderates appointed without a contest were Emma Reynolds (health), John Woodcock (defence), Barry Sheerman (environment), Tristram Hunt (communities and local government), Gavin Shuker (transport), Stephen Timms (work and pensions), Ivan Lewis (international development), Shabana Mahmood (justice), Caroline Flint (energy and climate change) and Peter Kyle (business). Among the 17 committee chairs, no fewer than 10 supported Liz Kendall’s leadership campaign.
The chair of the Treasury backbench committee, the former shadow chancellor, Chris Leslie, has been one of the strongest critics of Corbyn’s economic policies and has been willing to challenge them at meetings of the PLP. Ian Austin, the education chair, recently told Corbyn to stop acting like a “student union president”.
Other prominent moderates, such as Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna, have decided to concentrate their parliamentary careers on departmental select committee work.
It has long been obvious that Corbyn is isolated in the PLP, and did not even have the genuine ideological support of 35 MPs. In reality the backbench departmental bodies have so far had little influence, but they have the potential to become a vehicle to develop a parallel set of new policies to those being produced by Corbyn’s supporters.
Moderates also claimed they are organising to win seats in regional parties and are demanding that leading shadow cabinet supporters of Corbyn notify them if they intend to speak at Momentum events in their constituencies. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has given an undertaking that in future he will notify MPs if he attends Momentum events in MPs’ constituencies.
Momentum is a loose pressure group set up by supporters of Corbyn and is designed to maintain support for his politics in constituencies and build links with other protest groups around the country. Momentum insists it is no different to Progress, the once Blairite group, and says Labour has a long history of accepting internal factions.
But Corbyn has been accused by some shadow cabinet members, most recently Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, of sponsoring a faction rather than acting as a unifying figure in the whole of the Labour party.
Moderates fear Momentum will become an entryist vehicle and will encourage the far left into the party, leading to the deselection of MPs when parliamentary boundaries are redrawn. So far Momentum has concentrated on supporting registration campaigns and student demonstrations, but it is now setting up groups in many constituencies.
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