THE resignations and resentment raise questions over how long Labour’s embattled leader can remain
If a reshuffle represents a stern test of a leader’s authority, the arduous and farcical process by which Jeremy Corbyn sought to consolidate his power at the helm of the Labour party has left him weaker than ever.
Even before the details of the so-called “revenge reshuffle” were confirmed, a poll confirmed that voters thought the veteran left-winger was doing a worse job than his predecessor, Ed Miliband. This morning, as the dust settles, there can be no doubt this is case.
Since his unlikely elevation to the helm of the party last September, the gravest threat to Mr Corbyn’s prospects – and those of his party – is the perception that, frankly, he has no idea what he is doing.
He has been roundly criticised for an absence of leadership skills and is seen as sorely lacking in confidantes who might help him learn how to play on the grand political stage. The calamitous reshuffle has confirmed all of these fears.
In the end, the bloodletting amounted to little more than a few changes – the reshuffle that wasn’t, noted some observers – though the changes were enough to stoke fires that have been burning for several months.
The fallout has seen three Labour MPs – Jonathan Reynolds, Stephen Doughty and Kevan Jones – quit the party’s frontbench in protest at sackings made by Mr Corbyn. There is speculation that others could follow.
His decision to relieve Pat McFadden of his shadow ministerial role, in part because of his views on terrorism, has been particularly divisive and risks widening schisms in an area where Mr Corbyn is already on uncertain ground.
Even what is being presented as compromise in the form of Hillary Benn holding on to his position as shadow foreign secretary, on the proviso he does not openly criticise Mr Corbyn’s leadership, has quickly unravelled, with Mr Benn insisting that he has not been “muzzled”.
Throughout the parliamentary party there is disquiet and resentment over how his first reshuffle has been handled, while the gulf between MPs and ordinary members is wider than ever. According to the succinct summary of one senior figure in the party, the past few days have been nothing short of a “total disaster”.
Having failed to assert his power, Mr Corbyn is now faced with two choices: either he jettisons his MPs and presses ahead with his convictions, or he abandons some of his lifelong principles in order to restore order to his party. In truth, he does not seem to know which path to take; in any case, neither option looks viable. Now more than ever, it feels like a matter of when his tenure as leader comes to a premature end, not if, amid rumours that some of his MPs were gathering names calling on him to go.
The difficulty that remains for Labour, of course, is the lack of obvious candidates ready to replace him as leader. The rancour and chaos that has come to define Mr Corbyn’s new kind of politics is here for the time being.
North Korea’s threat remains high
The world may be short on answers following North Korea’s insistence that it has successfully carried out an underground hydrogen bomb test, but one truth is clear: Kim Jong-un’s contempt for the international community remains undimmed.
Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, the international commission tasked with monitoring nuclear tests, has said the latest test is no more powerful than one in 2013, which is estimated to have involved an atomic fission device with a yield of between six and nine kilotons.
Other respected figures have also expressed scepticism. At this time, no-one can be certain of the scope and nature of North Korea’s latest test. As such, worldwide condemnation remains vital. While Pyongyang’s claims have still to be independently verified – the process could take weeks – they have had the desired effect of destabilising an already tense region.
The ultimate concern is that once the bombast and rhetoric subsides, evidence emerges that North Korea has embarked on a significant upgrade of its capabilities. Such a prospect raises serious and urgent questions as to where they might eventually end up.
North Korea has a long and troublesome record of arms deals, especially with developing countries in the Middle East, south-east Asia and Africa. While much of that business has involved the sales of short- and medium-range missiles, the realisation of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions could leave the west facing a frightening future at a time when it is already sorely tested by the conventional arms at the disposal of IS and similar groups.