Corbyn reportedly spent Sunday with his team preparing a reorganisation to be announced in the coming days. He is expected to offer the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, and the shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, a move to other posts in a reshuffle aimed at ensuring that his top team is united on foreign and defence policy.
Eleven of the 28 members of the shadow cabinet, including Benn and Eagle, voted in favour of extending airstrikes against Islamic State to Syria, a move Corbyn strongly opposed. Eagle also supports the renewal of Trident – something the Labour leader is keen to change the party’s position on – which will be voted on in parliament in the spring.
The shadow culture secretary, Michael Dugher, one of those believed to be at risk in the impending reorganisation, told BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme that previous Labour leaders he had worked closely with had been reluctant to “go down the path of big 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,” Dugher said, adding that “ultimately [the makeup of the shadow cabinet] will be a decision for Jeremy”.
The reshuffle risks deepening rifts in the party and some Labour MPs have been keen to point out that Corbyn began his leadership promising to allow members of his shadow cabinet to express differing views.
Labour sources have suggested the possibility that the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, could swap positions with Hilary Benn, leaving both of them more likely to agree with the leadership on their respective briefs.
It has also been suggested that Benn could be replaced by Emily Thornberry, the MP for Islington South and Finsbury, the neighbouring constituency to Corbyn’s. Thornberry was forced to resign from the shadow cabinet during the 2014 byelection in Rochester and Strood, when she was accused of snobbery after tweeting a photograph of a house adorned with St George’s cross flags with a white van parked outside.
The shadow transport secretary, Lilian Greenwood, told Sky News’s Murnaghan that the party should “get on with holding the government to account rather than talking about internal Labour party matters”.
“Jeremy will set out his thoughts over the next days and weeks, I imagine,” she said. Asked if she thought Benn was doing a good job, she said: “I think all my colleagues are doing a good job … we want to be holding the government to account over their decisions and we have seen a number of them doing that over the Christmas break.”
Dugher said he did not expect the predicted big reshuffle to happen. “The reason I don’t see it happening is because I think it would be inconsistent with what Jeremy has talked about since he got the leadership, which is about … having debate,” he said.
“These things are always discussed, you get sometimes over-enthusiastic aides sort of nudging a leader in one particular direction. There’s always ambitious colleagues that spy that golden opportunity to be the shadow secretary of state for paper clips.”
Labour’s former policy chief and MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas, told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that speculation about a shadow cabinet reshuffle had distracted the party from focusing on scrutinising the government’s management of the floods.
“I think there is a danger that over the last three weeks over Christmas all we’ve heard about from Labour is reshuffle stories rather than trying to call to account the government and call them out on some of the flood management and the like,” he said.
“So I’m worried that this just reinforces this sort of drumbeat which is internally focused, which is factionalised, which is sort of symptomatic of a coarsening language and a lack of ideas at the top of the party.”
Asked whether Corbyn was right to want to move opponents out of key positions in the shadow cabinet, Cruddas said: “You have to have unity at the top of the party on the outstanding issues of our time, be they economic policy or foreign affairs or home affairs and the like and it’s incumbent on the leader to make sure that that is the case.
“So I have some sympathy with the need to create a uniform, coherent strategy and policy agenda from the top and it’s incumbent on the leader to make sure that he has the team that he feels comfortable about in terms of articulating his vision and is consistent with Labour party policy.”
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