Three of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow ministerial team have endorsed calls for the party to focus its energies on attacking the Conservative government amid speculation of an imminent reshuffle.
Lilian Greenwood, shadow transport secretary, and Jon Ashworth, the shadow cabinet minister, have backed comments made by Michael Dugher warning that a “revenge reshuffle” would drown out the party’s attacks on the government.
The reshuffle, widely expected to take place next week when MPs return to parliament, has dominated the festive break. Reports claim that the Labour leader is expected to sack Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, and Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary.
Others reportedly in the frame are Maria’s sister Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, and Dame Rosie Winterton, the chief whip. Any such move could lead to resignations, which might leave some of Corbyn’s most popular colleagues in a position to plot against him.
Shadow ministers have started to urge Labour to focus on the Tory challenge instead of their own internal changes. Dugher, a former spin doctor for Gordon Brown, wrote earlier this week that Labour “should be focused on getting after the Tories. This is a lousy Tory government and we need to keep exposing the fact.”
On Thursday, Greenwood endorsed Dugher’s column as “spot on”, before adding that Labour should “expose Tory failure” and explain how Labour offers a credible alternative.
Ashworth has also called for the party to concentrate on the Tories. “I am sure everyone will want to come back in January and be entirely focused on winning those elections facing the country and not the internal issues facing the Labour party,” he told Radio 4.
“There has been a lot of hysterical talk by Jeremy’s opponents of a ‘revenge reshuffle’,” she wrote. “But other Labour leaders have been allowed to reshuffle their team in their own way and in their own time. Why is Jeremy Corbyn the only Labour leader of modern times not allowed a reshuffle?”
She was responding to a column in the Guardian by Lord Mandelson which claimed that Corbyn had allowed reshuffle rumours to fester to destabilise his shadow cabinet enemies.
There is a desire among Corbyn’s allies for a change in personnel to ensure greater alignment over international and defence policy, but no decisions are believed to have been made as yet over who might be moved or how soon it will go ahead.
They believe Corbyn’s mandate as leader gives him the right to change ministers to ensure the cabinet reflects the views of the party’s members and not just its MPs, who tend to be more rightwing.
Many in the parliamentary party will be looking to the deputy leader, Tom Watson, to act as a link between the leader’s office and the parliamentary party over the next week. He told the Guardian on Tuesday he knew nothing about a reshuffle.
“I have not been made aware that a reshuffle is due,” he said. “What I have seen is that there has been much speculation over Christmas.
“Any reshuffle is for the leader of the Labour party. It is a very lonely job. I’m sure that if there is going to be one he will let me know. Leaders have to pick the team they want and I will make my views clear.”
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Saturday 2nd January 2016 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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