A senior member of Jeremy Corbyn’s team has decided to stand down after a controversial proposal to ban some companies from paying out dividends was drawn up without his full knowledge, according to senior Labour party sources.
Members of the shadow cabinet have expressed dismay at the decision of the veteran Labour figure, Neale Coleman, to resign as Corbyn’s head of policy and rebuttal, amid reports of divisions within the leader’s office. A Labour spokesperson said Coleman was holding talks about continuing to serve under Corbyn in an “advisory and support role”.
Coleman, an ally of the former London mayor Ken Livingstone, was recruited by Corbyn from City Hall, where he had stayed on to work for Boris Johnson. His departure is a blow to the Labour leadership after a difficult start to the year as he is highly respected by shadow cabinet members who are wary of Corbyn and his close allies.
Coleman had also impressed the group of senior backbench Labour MPs, many of whom have been highly critical of Corbyn, who were elected last year to chair a series of departmental committees of the parliamentary Labour party.
Steve McCabe, a former government whip under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who met Coleman in his role as chair of the home affairs committee, told the Guardian: “I was disappointed to hear Neale is leaving. That sounds sad. He seemed to be a very positive link to the PLP [parliamentary Labour party].
“It is always difficult for any new leader’s office getting off the ground. But Neale came across as quite impressive, seemed to be a thoughtful guy, seemed to have ideas on how things should move forward and the way people should be involved in policy.”
A senior Labour source said the final straw for Coleman was Corbyn’s announcement last weekend that companies should be barred from distributing dividends unless they paid the living wage.
Coleman was reportedly not fully involved in discussions about the proposal before it was briefed to journalists last Friday ahead of a speech by Corbyn to the Fabian conference the following day. According to the source, Coleman first learned about it fully when he was telephoned by two members of the shadow cabinet last Friday who had heard about the briefing on Corbyn’s speech from journalists. This account is contested.
A Labour party spokesperson said that family pressures – Coleman is in his 60s and has young children – were behind his decision to stand down from his demanding post.
The spokesperson said: “Neale Coleman has decided to step down as executive director of policy and rebuttal for the Labour party because of the pressures and demands of the job on his family life. He is currently in discussions about continuing to work with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leader’s team in an advisory and support role.”
Coleman endorsed the Labour party statement and offered his support for Corbyn. He said: “With the 24/7 news cycle, the demands and pressures of this particular job are very great and greater than I had foreseen. I have reluctantly decided that, with my young family it is best to stand down now so someone else can have a proper run at it.
“I continue to be a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and want to contribute to his and the Labour party’s success in the future. I am now discussing the details of how I can make a continuing contribution in providing support and advice to him, his team and the Labour party.”
One Labour source with knowledge of Coleman’s exit said it was a ridiculous excuse to suggest family reasons were the cause of his departure from the policy role.
Coleman worked for Livingstone at City Hall on housing and then on the preparations for the 2012 London Olympics. He was one of the few advisers to stay on after Johnson’s election in 2008. Johnson was advised that Coleman was an indispensable link between City Hall and the Olympic Delivery Authority.
Coleman was an early recruit to Corbyn’s office after his election last year and was a central figure in the challenging task of building up an operation from scratch.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st January 2016 18.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010