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Chakrabarti compares Labour Party to 'war zone' after controversial reshuffle

Published 08/10/2016

Rosie Winterton lost her job as chief whip in the shadow cabinet reshuffle
Rosie Winterton lost her job as chief whip in the shadow cabinet reshuffle

Jeremy Corbyn's highly controversial choice for shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, has compared the Labour Party to a "war zone".

As key allies closed ranks to defend the Labour leader after his shadow cabinet shake-up unleashed renewed turmoil, Baroness Chakrabarti said she had joined a party "in civil war", but that Mr Corbyn had brought some of his critics back onto the frontbench.

Lady Chakrabarti said she had received racist hate mail since becoming a Labour peer after producing a report on anti-Semitism in the party which some Jewish groups branded a whitewash.

"I think that I drew criticism the moment I joined the Labour Party. I joined a party in civil war at a time when the country was in crisis.

"And even if you think you are driving an ambulance into a war zone, you are going to take some flak, and that's what happened.

"I didn't expect, perhaps, some of the racist hate mail, often laced with misogyny, but I'm not here to whinge.

"I have had a bit of it, but nothing compared to what some young Jewish women MPs have faced. So, I sit here in solidarity with them, and I will continue to do my very best to make this party its better self, and to be a worthy opposition, which is what I think it now can be," the peer told Channel Four News.

Asked if she was a hypocrite for sending her son to a top private school, Lady Chakrabarti said: "I sit in a very nice, warm house, and I eat very nice food, and my neighbours in south London go to food banks, and are homeless.

"Now, maybe that makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me somebody who cares a bit about other people's children, and families, and not just my own."

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry also rallied to Mr Corbyn's defence, insisting he was being criticised for being "too decisive".

The comments came after Labour former home secretary Alan Johnson became the most senior figure in the party to criticise Mr Corbyn since his landslide re-election by insisting he lacked the abilities needed to be leader of the opposition.

When it was put to Mr Johnson on BBC Radio Four's Today programme that he believed Mr Corbyn was not up to the job of being leader, he said: "Me and many of my colleagues, perhaps he'll prove me wrong."

Mr Corbyn's reshuffle provoked a backlash with the chairman of the parliamentary party, John Cryer, sending an angry letter to MPs complaining that he and sacked chief whip Rosie Winterton had been kept in the dark about the move, despite holding talks with the leadership on having some of the posts elected by MPs.

Ms Thornberry strongly defended Mr Corbyn, saying it was wrong to criticise him for being "too decisive" as she insisted the issue of elected posts was still on the table.

"The problem is that on the one hand, people criticise, and have been criticising, Jeremy for being weak, for taking too long on his reshuffles, taking a couple of days, and yet when when he decides that he will do a reshuffle that he needs to do in order to fill vacancies and in order to reach out, people then criticise him for being too decisive and too strong."

Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle told Channel Four News: "We had the facade of discussions and negotiations going on about shadow PLP elections which were a complete farce when the leader's team had already planned what they would do instead."

Mr Cryer's letter to MPs stated: "Rosie and I were keen to continue these negotiations this week and tried to arrange meetings with the leader's office to come to an agreement as soon as possible.

"However, it became clear on Wednesday that a reshuffle was under way, which had not been discussed or mentioned. It now seems to me that the party's leadership did not engage in the talks in any constructive way. Obviously, I deeply regret this turn of events."

The sacking of Ms Winterton, and elevation of key Corbyn ally Diane Abbott to the high-profile post of shadow home secretary, provoked anger among moderate MPs in what some saw as a "revenge reshuffle".

Jon Ashworth, one of the few remaining moderates in the shadow cabinet, was promoted to shadow health secretary, but lost his place on the NEC to a Corbyn loyalist, which could tip the finely balanced body in the leadership's favour as it decides on elected posts.

Only a handful of the 63 people who quit the shadow cabinet in the summer returned to the fold, but more may take the remaining raft of junior posts yet to be announced.

Mr Johnson said he would take a "vow of silence" on criticising Mr Corbyn because he needed "time and space" after his re-election, but the ex-home secretary then denounced him as not up to the job of being leader within 30 seconds of the remarks.

Ms Thornberry also dismissed criticism that the top four positions in the shadow cabinet, including her own, are held by north London MPs.

"Half of the shadow cabinet come from the Midlands and the North - what is your problem?" she told the BBC.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that the pro-Corbyn Momentum organisation now has more than 20,000 members.

Some anti-Corbyn MPs have accused it of being a party within a party, but leading member Adam Klug told the Labour List blog that it only posed a threat to the Tories.

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