Sketch: The strange case of Jeremy Corbyn's cabinet
Like anyone faced with having to rearrange a cabinet, Jeremy Corbyn delayed for a day to consider the angles involved
The mood in the Labour Party seems tense. In fact, tense is an understatement. If the Miliband years felt like a bad dinner party, with tension bubbling underneath the surface, things have now escalated to the level normally experienced in the moments preceding a late night fast-food restaurant brawl. At least takeaway outlets nail the tables down.
Conflict seemed to reach a peak with Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to rearrange his cabinet – a task made much more difficult by the fact it is not a real cabinet. Actually, although it was billed as a ‘revenge reshuffle’, otherwise known as ‘any reshuffle’, no real shuffling occurs.
These are not a bunch of playing cards, lying on top of each other. They are a bunch of politicians, lying about each other.
But like anyone faced with the prospect of rearranging a cabinet, Corbyn delayed all movement for a day to reconsider the angles involved.
And for the media, which tends to take a deeply sordid interest in these things, the delay was a source of obvious frustration. As negotiations continued, the press loitered in Westminster – waiting around with their ears pressed up against doors, like the perverted owners of a countryside B&B.
A flurry of anti-Corbyn briefings followed. Only two people were actually sacked. In fact one member of the shadow cabinet, Stephen Doughty, was so frustrated at not getting sacked that he resigned in protest, live, on the BBC’s Daily Politics show.
Critics were outraged, but instead of questioning Doughty’s total lack of loyalty, they blamed the BBC. In fact, it later transpired that Doughty had told Corbyn of his decision before appearing on the show, but that meant very little. As far as Corbyn’s supporters were concerned, if the corporation had not allowed the minister to resign on TV, it would never have happened.
So the reshuffle may have started slowly but it was quickly getting out of hand, with the BBC now being treated like some sort of quantic experiment, where things only exist after Andrew Neil has talked in smug tones about them.
In philosophical terms, Doughty was considered to be simultaneously both resigned and unresigned, until the moment he appeared on the box. In fact, there may even be another universe where Doughty is not only still a member of the shadow cabinet, but famous enough for anyone to have actually heard of him.
Meanwhile the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, faced calls to resign herself for the crime of scooping her commercial rivals and putting Schrödinger’s MP on the Daily Politics. Though presumably not live on TV, given that was what started all the trouble in the first place.
So the cries of BBC bias continued, even if it was not clear whether critics were claiming the body is biased against Corbyn, or biased towards reporting events, as they occur, before their rivals.
The whole mess certainly made things easier for David Cameron at PMQs, who stubbornly refused to answer any questions regarding his decision-making on the basis that Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs don’t like him.
Asked about flooding, amid claims the PM has handled the whole thing disastrously, Cameron said: “We are spending more on flood defence schemes and stacking up a whole series of schemes that we will spend more on. Let me make this point to the right honourable gentleman: if he is going to spend £10 billion on renationalising our railways, where is he going to find the money for flood defences?
“The idea that this individual would be faster in responding to floods when it takes him three days to carry out a reshuffle is frankly laughable. Since I walked into the chamber this morning, his shadow Foreign Minister resigned and his shadow Defence Minister resigned—he could not run anything.”
Pressed further on flooding, he said: “I think the best I can say is that when the right honourable gentleman has worked out how to co-ordinate his own party, perhaps he could come and have a word with me.”
Next he just started making Shakespeare puns. These alone should motivate Labour to pull itself together.
It can’t go on forever. The in-fighting between Corbyn’s supporters and critics has continued for so long the two factions hardly know what they are fighting about.
Like two manky pigeons, rutting underneath an abandoned railway underpass, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that despite the activity’s obvious importance in the minds of the two protagonists, for everyone else, the spectacle is just gross and vaguely depressing. Except for the voyeurs in the media.
So talk of ousting Corbyn continues – even if it is hard to understand why. After all, imagine they kick him out, what would happen next? If precedent is anything to go by, the Labour membership would probably re-elect the current leadership on a massive mandate.
And so, at times, it seems as though the centre-right of the Labour Party does not have a problem with Corbyn, so much as with its own voters.
But how to get rid of them? Given the cunning of those involved, it seems almost certain they’ll find a way.
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