Jeremy Corbyn defends new shadow cabinet appointments

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended his latest shadow cabinet reshuffle. Picture: John Devlin
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended his latest shadow cabinet reshuffle. Picture: John Devlin
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Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow ministers have defended his Cabinet reshuffle, after he was accused of promoting little-known allies over more experienced MPs.

Mr Corbyn handed a major promotion to his long-time friend Diane Abbott, making her shadow home secretary.

With John McDonnell expected to stay in place as shadow chancellor and Emily Thornberry likely to retain the foreign affairs brief, the three most senior positions in the body are all held by staunch-Corbyn supporters - and London MPs.

Former whip Tom Blenkinsop accused Mr Corbyn of rowing back on his promise to unite the party.

He said: “Clear Corbyn wants submission not unity. Ignoring wishes of the PLP and just sacking and appointing regardless.”

The reshuffle saw little-known MPs moved around, including a promotion for Jo Stevens who was handed shadow Welsh secretary and Nia Griffith moved to the shadow defence brief, while Dawn Butler and Jonathan Reynolds were offered ministerial positions.

Ms Butler, shadow minister for diverse communities, denied that Mr Corbyn had failed to appoint the party’s more experienced MPs to top jobs because they had opposed him in the leadership election.

“They might be obscure but they are competent”, she said of the new team.

New shadow Welsh secretary Ms Stevens also defended Mr Corbyn’s appointments, insisting he had reached out to political opponents.

• READ MORE: Corbyn tells Scots that only Labour has the answers to inequality

She told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “I didn’t support Jeremy in the leadership election, neither did Keir Starmer, neither did Nia Griffith and I don’t think Sarah Champion did either.

“I was one of the senior people in Owen Smith’s leadership campaign, and he’s (Mr Corbyn) offered me a post on the shadow cabinet.

“Good leadership is about listening, influencing, persuading and an element of compromise.”

The Labour leader is rebuilding his front benches after the mass walk-out of shadow cabinet members who opposed him in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in June.

Dozens of posts were left unfilled, with many Corbyn loyalists “double jobbing” in multiple roles.

His reshuffle in the wake of his second leadership victory is set to continue on Friday afternoon.

In a surprise move the Labour leader brought in Nick Brown, a long-standing ally of former leader Gordon Brown to replace Rosie Winterton as chief whip, who had been attempting to broker an agreement over shadow cabinet elections.

The move has reportedly angered many of Mr Corbyn’s critics, who saw Ms Winterton’s role as a key bridge of communication between moderate backbenchers and the leader’s team.

Mr Corbyn has so far been resistant to calls from former shadow cabinet members for the body’s membership to be decided by a ballot of MPs.

But the Labour leader announced Sir Keir Starmer, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, who stormed out of his frontbench position as immigration minister, has been brought in to the shadow cabinet as shadow Brexit secretary.

It brings forward a major moderate figure to the top team, in a signal that Mr Corbyn is prepared to allow some room for his critics.

• READ MORE: Diane Abbott promoted in Labour reshuffle

However, a number of anti-Corbyn MPs, such as failed leadership challenger Mr Smith, have insisted they could not serve under him.

Shami Chakrabarti, the former Liberty director who carried out a controversial investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, has also been appointed to the shadow cabinet as the new shadow attorney general, the Labour leader announced.

It comes after she was forced to defend herself over her peerage nomination, which was announced just a month after her anti-Semitism inquiry into the Labour Party concluded amid claims from critics that it was too soft.

The appointment was met with fierce criticism from prominent Jews and Labour MPs, who questioned her independence.

She has insisted there was “nothing remotely transactional” about her report when pressed on whether there were any talks about a peerage before it was completed.

Clive Lewis, who only became an MP for the first time last year, has been moved away from his role as shadow defence secretary a month after a high-profile row over Labour’s Trident policy.

The former soldier who had his speech changed by Mr Corbyn’s team is now shadow business secretary - allowing him to be replaced by pro-Trident MP Ms Griffith.

Ms Champion was moved to the role of shadow women and equalities minister.

Announcing the appointment of Ms Butler, Mr Corbyn said: “I am very proud that the Labour Party now has five MPs in our shadow cabinet from the BAME community - the highest number ever in any cabinet or shadow cabinet.”

In a bid to stress regional balance in the top team, Mr Corbyn said the appointment of Mr Reynolds to the role of shadow economic secretary to the treasury meant there were 10 MPs from the north of England on the front bench.

The former shadow transport minister was another frontbencher to quit his role before later indicating his willingness to work with Mr Corbyn again.

Jon Trickett has been moved from shadow business secretary to shadow Lord President of the Council and Labour’s national campaigns co-ordinator.

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