THE DUST HAS SETTLED ON JEREMY CORBYN’S first four months as Labour Party leader. He has had his first reshuffe and his first major run-in with the Parliamentary Labour Party. He has not only survived both tests but has come out in a stronger position.
Jeremy continues to outperform his critics’ expectations and, despite threats from MPs such as Jess Phillips that she is ready to “stab him in the front” - and the efforts of those grandstanders who quit the shadow team - his standing among party members continues to improve as the New Politics begins to take hold across the country.
The difficulties around bombing Syria stretch back to Labour Party Conference when an emergency motion was passed setting four conditions which should be met prior to Labour supporting military action. In the end it was obvious to most people that all four conditions - UN backing; subordination to the diplomatic process; an EU-wide solution to the humanitarian crisis and targeting exclusively ISIL militants - had not been met.
That left Jeremy in a difficult position. He was unable to impose his principled opposition to western intervention on elements of a more hawkish Shadow Cabinet and PLP, so he enlisted the help of Stop the War and Momentum in making the case for voting against air strikes. After a successful campaign, the majority of the Shadow Cabinet and PLP backed Jeremy. Despite the unsightly jingoism which followed the call for war from Hilary Benn, it is clear that Jeremy won the argument in the Party.
There was plenty of fallout from the Syria vote, including the demonisation of Stop the War and anyone involved with them, which reached fever pitch with live TV broadcasts from outside the Christmas dinner where Jeremy spoke. It didn’t take long for the briefing to start that there would be a reshuffle during which ‘those who supported bombing would be shown the door.’ The question is where the briefing came from. Was it Team Corbyn raising expectations or those fearful of being in the firing line getting in first?
Once the reshuffle did start, a few shadow ministers saw the chance to have their five minutes in the spotlight. Whether resigning live on TV or constantly retweeting fawning praise for them, they have behaved exactly how people expect politicians to behave when they don’t get their own way, like spoilt children. Fortunately they instantly returned to the level of obscurity their behaviour deserved.
The reshuffle was a success for Corbyn on a number of levels. The top table now reflects his own views and, perhaps even more importantly, he has shown that he isn’t afraid to sack those who stray too far out of line. Bringing in Emily Thornberry to Defence brings extra weight to the anti-Trident sentiment and Hilary Benn may well have to give account for his enthusiasm for war in Syria when it goes wrong, as it almost inevitably will.
As the Guardian has recently reported, the Labour Party has become almost unrecognisable from the party Jeremy took over last year. Membership has swelled beyond anyone’s expectations and the vast majority among the grassroots back Corbyn and his project. The fact that there was no mass walkout following the sackings of Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden, despite the best attempts of media to whip up a frenzy, demonstrates the lack of appetite among the vast majority of MPs to cause trouble. Sections of the right-wing of the Party are deluding themselves into thinking that if only they had chosen a different candidate for the leadership election (Dan Jarvis apparently the latest), none of this would have happened. It might actually be this detachment of the right from the new political realities, with the Labour Party in the country now on the left and firmly behind Jeremy, which keeps him in place for the foreseeable future.
There’s no doubt that there are areas where Team Corbyn needs to sharpen up its operation. There’s clearly a need for more individuals who are both committed to the Corbyn plan but also have the political experience and judgement to intervene. When the briefing about the reshuffle started over Christmas, they should have stamped out the talk of big changes. By not doing so, they allowed the right of the Party to claim victory at the outcome.
There are big fights coming up in the next few months. Foreign policy may come back to the fore if the government brings forward plans to send troops into Libya, and the defence review is bound to lead to a bitter row with elements of the trade union movement. There were some people who didn’t expect Jeremy to last this long. But now that his position has been consolidated, let’s unite behind the leadership and make progress in the fight for victory.