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Labour leadership accused of dishonesty after 'revenge reshuffle'

Published 06/01/2016

Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden has been sacked from Jeremy Corbyn's cabinet for
Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden has been sacked from Jeremy Corbyn's cabinet for "disloyalty", according to Labour sources

The latest Labour frontbencher to quit over Jeremy Corbyn's so-called "revenge reshuffle" has accused the party leadership of dishonesty and warned that voters would be dismayed by the changes.

Kevan Jones claimed his former boss Maria Eagle, a supporter of Trident, had been moved from the defence brief against her will despite briefings that taking on the shadow culture secretary role was her "dream".

Jeremy Corbyn was hit with three quick-fire resignations from his front bench after he sacked two
Jeremy Corbyn was hit with three quick-fire resignations from his front bench after he sacked two

The former shadow defence spokesman said there had been "nothing straightforward or honest" about the way the reshuffle had been carried out and claimed Labour was being run in a "very top-down" manner.

Mr Corbyn was hit with three quick-fire resignations from his front bench after he sacked two "disloyal" senior figures and promoted a Trident opponent in a reshuffle that took more than 30 hours.

Mr Jones followed Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty in walking out, citing differences with the Labour leader on key policy issues and the treatment of their colleagues.

The North Durham MP told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "Jeremy was elected with the strapline 'straight talking, honest politics'. There has been nothing straightforward or honest about what's gone on over the last 48 hours.

"Maria, it's now being briefed that this was her dream job and she wanted to do it. That is not the case. She did not want to move. She made that point very clear.

"Both Maria and myself were appointed when Jeremy was elected. He knew our views on the nuclear deterrent."

Mr Jones said he "personally got on very well" with Mr Corbyn but believed "the people around him are advising him very badly" .

"If you agree with the leader, that's fine, if you don't then there is no entering into discussions," he added.

The MP, a minister under Gordon Brown, said Tom Watson believed that appointing Emily Thornberry as shadow defence secretary was a mistake - something the deputy leader denied on Twitter.

"We have got to be credible on defence in the country and I think appointing Emily is a mistake," Mr Jones said. "So did Tom Watson."

He claimed thousands of voters who cared about defence policy would be alienated and warned that Labour faced becoming a "protest party and a talking shop".

"The idea that our defence policy is being controlled by a north London part of the party will be looked on in dismay by many people who actually have a deep, passionate care about defence," he added.

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty quit as shadow foreign affairs minister live on television, telling the BBC's Daily Politics programme that he had "looked at his own conscience" and was stepping down after the leader's office told "lies" about the reasons why Europe spokesman Pat McFadden had been dismissed.

Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds said he was resigning as shadow rail minister because he could not "in good conscience endorse the world view of the Stop the War Coalition" - a group closely linked to Mr Corbyn.

Speculation is growing that more frontbenchers could choose to leave in the wake of the shake-up, which also saw Michael Dugher ejected from the culture brief for "incompetence" and "disloyalty".

Ms Eagle praised Mr Jones for his " outstanding contribution to supporting and protecting our armed forces" and said it was a "privilege to work" with him.

Mr Corbyn stopped short of shifting Hilary Benn from his position as shadow foreign secretary despite their high-profile clash over Syria air strikes.

But the leader's allies said they had secured an "agreement" from Mr Benn that there would be no repeat of the air strikes situation - where he spoke in the Commons opposing the leader's position.

Mr Benn insisted he had not been gagged by the leadership.

He said: "I haven't been muzzled. I'm going to be carrying on doing my job exactly as before, which is speaking for Labour on foreign policy, supporting Jeremy Corbyn and campaigning really hard to get Labour elected at the next general election."

Mr Benn said he was "r eally sad to lose" Mr Doughty from the front bench, adding he would "miss his wisdom, insight and comradeship".

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon used the chaos to claim that Labour was a threat to national security.

He said: "This reshuffle shows that a divided Labour Party is a threat to national security. The Labour Party has a leader who would abolish the armed forces and withdraw from Nato, a shadow chancellor who wanted to disband MI5, and now a shadow defence secretary who would scrap our nuclear deterrent.

"North Korea's deeply disturbing claim to have exploded its first hydrogen bomb underlines the importance of taking our national security seriously, not handing it to a Labour Party that would unilaterally disarm Britain."

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell dismissed the trio who have quit as part of a "narrow right-wing clique".

"We have had a few junior members resign today and of course that's their right but they do all come from a sort of a narrow right-wing clique within the Labour Party based around the organisation Progress, largely," he told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show .

"I don't think they've really ever accepted Jeremy's mandate. I'm afraid they have to recognise that Jeremy got elected with the largest mandate of any political leader from any political party in our history.

"I'm afraid they haven't respected that leadership election result."

Labour MP John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) told BBC News he was "losing hope" that the leadership was able - or even willing - to make sure the party stood a chance of winning the 2020 general election.

"The people who are running the Labour Party, I'm afraid, are not doing so in a manner that is likely to put us anywhere near being able to be a credible force at the next election," he said.

"Having seen three months of these people in office, I am losing hope that they will actually properly orientate themselves to the job of being a credible force that can command the centre and a broad coalition within the country.

"I am no longer convinced that that's what they want to do.

"I very much hope that this is a low point in the Labour Party's history that we improve from. I'm afraid I don't have confidence that will be the case.

"But we have to try to move on from this."

The former Number 10 aide to Gordon Brown said Mr McDonnell's "clique" jibe was "a deeply insulting thing to say to people who have given good service to the Labour Party, who agreed to go and serve in Jeremy's frontbench despite the clear differences they had".

It was "pretty disgraceful conduct from the leader of a party that seeks to govern", he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "I despair at Labour's meltdown. Britain needs a progressive liberal voice that can actually challenge the Conservatives and offer an alternative that understands real people's lives.

"Just this week, when a party is needed to challenge the Housing Bill, shine a light on the UK's shady relationship with Saudi Arabia and highlight a worrying consumer credit bubble, Labour are nowhere to be seen. Labour is not that credible alternative. It is split from top to bottom."

Ms Thornberry defended her suitability for the defence role and said it was "nonsense" to suggest she had been brought in to help shift the party's stance on Trident.

"There is nothing wrong with asking these questions and trying to find a collective solution," she told British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBS).

"I am quite clear what my views are about Trident but I have also made it clear that I want to have a truly open policy review. It would have been great to have Kevan, but we don't."

She added: "I have actually quite a lot more experience than people might think I do.

"I have a member of my family who is in the armed forces. I have a brother-in-law who is a general.

"I was actually made an honorary lieutenant colonel when I was doing court martials when I was a barrister and so I have a certain amount of experience of the military there.

"I have a regiment in my constituency. My father was a peacekeeper. He worked with forces all over the world in all sorts of warzones peacekeeping for the United Nations. He was Irish and I have to say he thought more highly of the British troops than he did of any other countries."

Labour grandee Lord Mandelson said the reshuffle " takes Labour even further away from any prospect of winning a general election" by focusing on moving to a policy of unilateral disarmament.

The party was "too far behind, too far out of touch and too wide of the electoral mainstream to catch up and stand any realistic chance of replacing the Conservatives, however unpopular they will be in four years' time," he wrote in Newsweek.

The former cabinet minister - a driving force behind reforms to the party in the 1980s and 1990s and at the heart of New Labour's spin operation - said Mr Corbyn would use "spurious" rule changes to force through the switch.

Unlike in the 1980s, trade unions could no longer be relied on as a "stabilising force", he suggested.

"All is not lost. Corbyn and his coterie may yet be capsized by the weight of their own internal electoral contradictions. But those who believed originally that their sheer incompetence would be their undoing now have to come to terms with the fact that in taking control of the structures of the party, Corbyn has possession of the title deeds and controls the finances and the staff hiring and firing of the Labour Party.

"It may take little short of a miracle, and a lot of courage amongst Labour parliamentarians, to face down Corbyn and his new grassroots followers. There remain many, though, determined to give it a try."

Mr Reynolds later tore into s hadow international development secretary Diane Abbott after she wrongly dismissed those who had quit as career politicians who had all been special advisers.

Ms Abbott, a close ally of the party leader, told BBC2's Newsnight that Mr Jones was "a great guy who knows an enormous amount about defence and is a big loss".

But she added: "If you look at Jonathan Reynolds, if you look at Mr Dugher, if you look at some of these others, what do they have in common? They are all former special advisers.

"What you are seeing is people that came up under a certain system - where you did politics at uni, you became a special adviser, you became an MP, you became a minister - who are rightfully upset because Jeremy has brought a whole lot of new energy and new people into politics."

A furious Mr Reynolds hit back: "At least Google us before slagging us off.

"For the record ... I was a trainee solicitor when elected, having gone to law school as a mature student and single parent," he said.

"And I think you're a total sell-out for sending your own kids to private school."

Mr Doughty dismissed her attack as "nonsense", pointing out that he worked for more than seven years for international charities including World Vision and Oxfam and campaigns such as Make Poverty History before an 18-month spell as a special adviser at the Department for International Development under the last Labour government.

He pointed to a "h uge contrast" between her attack and the approach of Mr Corbyn, with whom he said he had discussed tonight "how he and I could still work together on issues like international development and climate".

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