Is UK Labour’s re-shuffling itself into a new form of democratic centralism?

Kudos to David for staying up to the bitter end of a 30 hour shadow cabinet reshuffle, that ended up in very little change. It should be noted that Irish cabinet reshuffles can take months, but very few political reshuffles happen within just four months of the previous one.

Some Labour folk are spinning this as a mere media storm, but the four month frame and the barely veiled threat against Hillary Benn clearly indicate an attempt by Jeremy Corbyn to put manners on those not happy with his own chosen direction as leader.

This is Corbyn experimenters demonstrating that it has teeth and is not afraid to bite. But with three further Ministers having resigned and possibly another two on the way it has to be remembered that these dissenters are not on the right of the party.

Rather these are the ones who wanted to back Corbyn as leader.

Andrew Neil pointed out on the Daily Politics this morning after thirty hours of talks it is not clear who Corbyn has been talking to. Lisa Nandy who sits comfortably to the left of the party and retains her job at Environment was stumped as to the reasons for the sacking of Dugher and McFadden.

The naming this morning of Labour’s head of comms Seumas Milne as the person actively promoting the revenge reshuffle narrative suggests either great calculation or great carelessness on the part of the leadership. John McDonnell also followed through this morning.

For Hilary Benn’s (whom it is thought Mr Corbyn had tried to move) part he has said he will carry on as before. That is to carry on holding the party whip and cabinet responsibility. Ironically, it is Corbyn’s leadership that has created an unexpected (and possibly unlooked for) opportunity for Benn.

As Michael White points out in sacking Barnsley MP Michael Dugher (over little more than minor, if irritating forms of blunt speech) is making tough enemies in a part of the Labour machine that Corbyn will find hard to reach.

The moving of Eagle sideways after her run in with Ken Livingstone looks very much like an internal maneuver the new Defence Secretary Emily Thornbury’s anti Trident stance in order to gain some leverage towards a substantial policy shift at NEC level.

The paradox here is that probably one of the most disloyal MPs Labour history is making loyalty to the leader binding even on a free vote. There is a certain smack of democratic centralism to the whole thing, even if weeding out dissenters comes at a certain, erm, excruciating price.

In a fascinating essay for Dissent Magazine, James Stafford notes:

Along with his key lieutenants and supporters, Corbyn has been declaiming at length from platforms for years. He continued to do so, albeit to bigger crowds, at his packed campaign rallies. The audience never really gets to set the agenda.

The leader’s hallmark is his “principled,” stubborn consistency, rather than any particular willingness to engage in genuine dialogue with those who have uncomfortable things to say about the modern Labour party (a category that includes much of the electorate).

It’s worth remembering that Corbyn could have out and out sacked Benn. He didn’t in part because it may well have signaled a full scale civil war within the party, something that does not (yet, at least) suit the Labour leader.

But this is a comedy that will keep playing and playing. We know from our own experience in NI that voters really don’t like divided parties, but Labour is a party with a lot of bad karma and legacy to work through. As Michael White noted yesterday:

…disowning Blairism is a major disaster for Labour, though Hyman’s article concedes that Blair’s disconnect from his party base was pretty ruinous. He and Gordon Brown left a pretty unpersuasive crop of next generation leaders too; hence the choice of the oldest candidate last September.

Yep, but this re-shuffle demonstrates also that it is not going to be any walk in the park for the Rebel Alliance either. Last word to the words that got the MP for Barnsley East the chop:

I was attracted by Jeremy’s call for a new, kinder politics. This would be one where there would be room for a little dissent and where the party, including the Shadow Cabinet, would have the confidence to have proper debates and discussions. What greater evidence of this than his decision that, despite his strong opposition to military action, there should be a free vote on Syria? And his insistence that all sides of the debate should respect one another’s different but sincerely held points of view.

Next week, when the Commons returns from recess, all Labour’s energy should be focussed on getting after the Tories. This is a lousy Tory government and we need to keep exposing the fact. We also know we all face a big test in the May elections: defending the Welsh Government, showing Labour can turn things around in Scotland with Jeremy’s anti-austerity message, winning in London and gaining council seats in England.

In the end, George Lucas did use the “revenge” word in one of his Star Wars films but it was about the baddies in Revenge of the Sith. He was right. Revenge is not very Jedi. It’s also not very new politics.


  • mickfealty

    It’s not as though I hadn’t provided some evidence above?

  • mickfealty

    Forgive me, but whilst I think I might agree with you, I’m not really sure precisely what it is you’ve said?

  • chrisjones2

    “saplings” ……………..I will get me chainsaw then

    More Japanese Knotweed perhaps

  • chrisjones2

    This is like listening to some mutant Nanny who thinks she controls the Ideas Box at Playtime

  • Zig70

    I don’t know what else you could expect. The party had swung right and lost it’s base. The media are smelling blood and not getting fed. This was absolutely essential and any political mind that voted to drop grenades in ISIS general laps (or blow up hospitals, Iraqi army and Syrian oil supplies) should have seen it coming. I think it is great as does any other decent socialist I know.

  • chrisjones2

    So decent socialists oppose military action against IS then?

  • chrisjones2

    Corbyn reminds me of an elderly slightly deranged man shuffling down the street Occasionally (as today) his braces break and his trousers fall down tripping him up.

  • Zig70

    Wouldn’t it be great to live in a black and white right wing world. They’d oppose violence for the sake of looking like you are doing something. Easier to justify spending billions on bombs than millions on refugees.

  • Nevin

    Michael Dugher on ‘trashing’ by the Labour leader’s team.

  • chrisjones2

    So you just let the murder and rape expand and stand around the side helping those who manage to escape?

  • mickfealty

    Very good link Nev, and thanks for being on topic!! 😉

  • Nevin

    I like to hear and see it from the horse’s mouth! As for ‘topic’, perhaps we could have a little less ‘democratic centralism’ 😉

  • Zig70

    Why didn’t you say? Of course I’d support that. I just thought you were proposing bombing with little or no intelligence on the ground and a confused picture as to who belongs to which faction in order to kill ten’s of thousands of civilians as in the Iraq war and radicalize as many young Muslims as possible to ISIS’ cause.

  • chrisjones2

    I believe that since the vote we have dropped perhaps 10 bombs / missiles

  • mickfealty

    Has any of this sub thread anything remotely to do with the post above?

  • Zig70

    Spoil sport, nearly had CJ turned to follow JC. 😉

  • Reader

    Mick, I think you may have committed some violation of Approved Thinking. You are now expected to withdraw from public life until you have mended your ways.
    I agree it would help somewhat if the commissar was a bit more specific.

  • mickfealty

    Looks like we will never know Reader… [‘Mike’ rolls under the wheels of a heavy goods vehicle]

  • Eugene McConville


    Corbyn constituency borders the one I live in and, in my experience, universally recognised locally as an exceptionally good Constituency MP. We’ll have to see how he performs as a party leader. Your impressions might be influenced by an unremittingly hostile media. While I despise The Mail/Sunday Mail, and loath to link to anything it prints, I think this recent Hitchens’s column is worth making an exception:

  • kensei


    Reshuffles after four months are unusual but the initial shadow cabinet was assembled in difficult circumstances and Labour have had a discipline issue which a problem, especially as are going to magnify all of it. The solution of a free vote on Syria was damaging in practice, so things needed changed.

    Corbyn has a right to mould the party in his direction, just as previous leaders did. Blair did more parachuting in candidates and sidelining than Corbyn will ever manage but he’s on the right and good at media so it didn’t count.

    Corbyn and his nteam are crap at media, which us what you get if you elect soneone on a platform of being crap at media. They’ll either get better, or go under because of it. Especially ad the right of the party are quite good at it, which is why they can slip “revenge reshuffle” as a term and get it popularised.

    But it’s little to do with democratic centralism. That’s a blog writer seeing his pet idea everywhere.

    Hope this clarifies!

  • Eugene McConville
  • kensei

    And in case youbthink its just me here is an article in the *Telegraph* saying the same thing better

  • aquifer

    Dragging ‘Democratic Centralism’ out of the crypt from time to time to check that the wooden stakes and silver bullets are still in place is a useful public service. Poking the dead about may look and smell bad, but the maintenance of European public health requires it.

    The Social Democracy of New Labour accepted that a market economy and a plurality of institutions helps to maintain prosperity and political freedom.

    Where New Labour failed to follow through was in allowing the spirit of ‘Democratic Centralism’ to walk the corridors of Labour HQ. ‘Socialism is what Labour does’ led to Labour selfishly preventing proportional representation, an anti-democratic centralism that bequeathed us government by a jingoist clique within a Tory gang. Rule by a minority within a minority.

    And less competently that by the bright young Blairite careerists.