LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn has sacked his EU policy chief for disloyalty and moved his pro-nuclear defence spokeswoman to another job in an attempt to tighten control over his rebellious parliamentary party.
Corbyn, a veteran left-wing activist, was overwhelmingly elected party leader last year after tapping into a desire for change among grass-roots party members, including many new, younger recruits. But his four-month tenure has deepened divisions between him and several of Labour’s leading lawmakers.
Members of his “shadow cabinet”, who hold portfolios mirroring those in government, had openly disagreed with him over foreign and defence policy - something that has hobbled the party’s ability to challenge the ruling Conservatives.
Labour said Emily Thornberry would replace Maria Eagle as defence spokeswoman. Eagle was in favour of renewing Britain’s nuclear-armed Trident submarine programme, putting her at odds with Corbyn who has argued that the more than 100 billion-pound price tag to replace the country’s deterrent could be better used.
Thornberry has voted against renewing Trident. Europe shadow secretary Pat McFadden said he had been sacked in part because of comments he made in parliament seemingly at odds with statements Corbyn had made on the causes of terrorism. Corbyn, he said, had taken them as a personal attack. He will be replaced by Pat Glass, a pro-Europe former junior education spokeswoman.
Another member of the shadow cabinet, culture spokesman Michael Dugher, was also sacked. In a move that suggested Corbyn’s efforts to forge unity remain some way from fruition Labour’s rail spokesman, Jonathan Reynolds resigned, saying he would better contribute away from its leading body.
Labour’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said Corbyn had questioned some leading lawmakers’ loyalty. “He came to the view that with both Michael and with Pat he didn’t feel he had confidence in them,” he told Sky News.
“There were issues where there has been undermining of his leadership and not accepting his mandate from the party members that he received in the election.” McDonnell said Corbyn was trying to “hold everyone together but be very clear about our direction of travel in terms of policy”.
But Reynolds, the rail spokesman, said in his resignation letter posted on his Facebook: “I understand your need for a greater degree of discipline on the front bench and therefore believe it would be more appropriate to advocate these causes as a backbencher (a rank and file Labour lawmaker).”
In what was seen as a compromise with Labour’s more moderate members, however, the party’s shadow foreign minister Hilary Benn, who had been tipped to be ousted after openly opposing Corbyn last year over military action in Syria, kept his job. McDonnell said, however, that Benn would now have to keep step with Corbyn’s views.
“Hilary Benn has ensured that he works more closely with Jeremy in the future and that he will be representing the views of the Labour Party,” he said.