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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents could return to shadow cabinet, say allies

Published 11/09/2016

Jeremy Corbyn is seeking re-election as leader
Jeremy Corbyn is seeking re-election as leader

Critics of Jeremy Corbyn could be welcomed back into the shadow cabinet if he wins the Labour leadership contest, his allies have said.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said MPs "owe it to the Labour Party to work together", while shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he would like to see leadership challenger Owen Smith return to the top team.

But Ms Thornberry also suggested shadow cabinet ministers could be elected by the whole of the Labour Party - potentially strengthening the position of Mr Corbyn's allies because of the leader's popularity with the grassroots.

Despite Mr Smith's insistence that he can be named leader when the results are announced on September 24, Mr Corbyn is the firm favourite to retain his post, prompting speculation that many of the senior MPs who quit shadow cabinet roles could seek a return to the top team.

Earlier this month L abour MPs and peers backed proposals to restore elections to select the shadow cabinet in a move viewed as a fresh challenge to Mr Corbyn, who is marking a year as party leader on Monday.

The Parliamentary Labour Party held a ballot on reintroducing the measure Ed Miliband axed in 2011 to give him a free hand selecting his top team.

But the vote is not binding and the reform will need the backing of the ruling National Executive Committee and the party's conference before it can be introduced.

Ms Thornberry told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour: "I think that the process of opening the party up to democracy and working with this enthusiasm is a good thing.

"If we are going to have shadow cabinet elections then I think it is something we should think about. If we are going to have them elected maybe we should be thinking about party conference or the membership having some sort of input into that. Why not? What are we afraid of?"

The shadow foreign secretary urged colleagues to unite behind Mr Corbyn: " Of course it is going to be difficult, and I appreciate that there are certain people who have very hardened positions and who will not work with Jeremy.

"But I think there are many others who will accept democracy within the party and who will work to do the best they can for the sake of the Labour Party, because the Labour Party is bigger and greater than all of us, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We owe it to the Labour Party to work together."

Her comments came after she became embroiled in a sexism row with Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan when she was challenged to name the French foreign minister.

" Don't start pub quizzing me, Dermot," she said. "Don't start pub quizzing me."

She added: "I certainly think, sometimes, when it comes to sexism, some Sky presenters need to look at themselves too. I really do. It really upsets me that every time I come on here, you do another pub quiz with me because you do not do it with anybody else and I do think that it's patronising."

Mr McDonnell, a key ally of Mr Corbyn and the chairman of his re-election campaign, attempted to broker a peace with the leader's critics, insisting that the leadership team is prepared to listen to their concerns.

He said he wanted Mr Smith to return to the shadow cabinet, adding: "I have always looked upon him as a mate."

He added that the leadership team is "talking to people all the time" about returning to the shadow cabinet.

Despite the bitter leadership contest, Mr McDonnell said: "What I hope happens at the end of this election campaign, that phrase 'what's said on tour, remains on tour' I think will apply."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady called for Labour to unite behind the winning candidate.

"As soon as the contest is over, we are saying get behind whoever the leader is, get united. But start focusing on people out in the country.

"Voters want to get a bit more attention, it can't just be about the rights of MPs, or the rights of members, I think Labour needs to start focusing on what voters want," she told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

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