Labour backbenchers form high-profile group to respond to budget

Chucka Umunna

A team of high-profile Labour backbenchers have organised their own coordinated response to George Osborne’s budget, fearing Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet would struggle to do so.

The MPs – including several who have ministerial experience, or have held senior shadow cabinet portfolios – made a series of interventions in the House of Commons, and toured the television studios after Osborne delivered his eighth budget, to put across their own version of Labour’s response.

Chuka Umunna, who briefly joined last year’s leadership race himself before pulling out and Chris Leslie, the former shadow chancellorare part of a group working separately from the shadow cabinet, to beef up Labour’s economic credibility.

Leslie, the MP for Nottingham East, asked the prime minister a question about whether Osborne had unwisely squandered the £27bn forecasting windfall he was handed by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility in November’s autumn statement.

He told the Guardian: “We’re all here to help: we have got to make sure that we step up to the plate and give proper scrutiny to the government.”

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, last week sought to restore Labour’s shattered credibility for managing the economy, by announcing a new “fiscal credibility rule”.

He has also signed up a team of well-respected experts, including Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz and the French star economist Thomas Piketty, as advisers.

But some senior backbenchers fear his message that Osborne’s economic recovery is “built on sand”, will fail to win back Labour’s reputation for economic competence.

Allies of Corbyn played down the significance of the backbench alliance, saying the leader would continue to hold the chancellor to account for “six years of failure”.

However, the grouping of economic specialists thinks of itself as Labour’s “first 11”. Fellow Labour MPs have dubbed it the “G10” – a grouping that grew out of those who refused to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – and is said to meet regularly, before the weekly gathering of the parliamentary Labour party.

Other Labour MPs appear to be sceptical about the group, painting them as an exclusive “cool gang” that believe themselves the rightful rulers of the Labour party. One MP said the effort was hopeless and the former shadow cabinet ministers should realise they are making matters worse by setting themselves up to look like Blairite plotters.

One of the MPs described their approach as a “show not tell” plan – in which the backbenchers make arguments to try to persuade members who backed Corbyn that there may be a more voter-friendly alternative.

But some see their regular gatherings as laying the groundwork for former paratrooper Dan Jarvis to launch a leadership challenge – while not including him directly allowing him to deny direct involvement.

A row erupted over Jarvis’s backers last week, when Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London who is close to Corbyn, described his decision to take money from a hedge fund tycoon as “like Jimmy Savile funding a children’s group”.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Heather Stewart, Anushka Asthana and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 16th March 2016 19.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010