Thursday, 7 January 2016

Should Corbyn have sacked Hiliary Benn? Probably...

After the protracted, what was in the end only a mini reshuffle of Labour’s front bench team, the dust finally seems to have settled. I think it is fair to say that the reshuffle was an object example of how not to do one, and what I can only imagine was a deliberately neglectful media strategy, was becoming embarrassing. But more of this later.

Certainly in the media, and I dare say in Corbyn’s inner circle, Hiliary Benn was the main focus of attention. The media, with the backing of the Tories have built Benn up after his pro-bombing Syria speech in Parliament, as an alternative leader of the Labour Party. The media loves to make these things into a clash of ‘personalities’, and it had been trailed since before Christmas as a ‘revenge reshuffle’ and so on.

Benn was eventually confirmed as carrying on in his post of shadow Foreign Secretary, after what appears to be some kind of gentleman’s agreement between Corbyn and Benn, but the details have not been made public. Corbyn’s team quickly spun the decision as Benn being made to follow Corbyn’s lead on foreign affairs, but Benn stated that he would not be ‘muzzled’ and would carry on as normal.

I watched Diane Abbott on BBC TV Newsnight refusing to answer directly the question of what Benn had agreed to do, or not do. All she kept repeating was that Labour members expect to see their spokespeople speaking for the policies they had voted for in electing Corbyn as leader, or words to that effect.

Only time will tell, if whatever agreement was reached between Corbyn and Benn, will satisfy both parties in practice, particularly as the bombing of Islamic State in Libya is the next likely clashing point, and I suspect it will not survive such an issue as that.

If we are to believe what we have seen in the media, maybe as many as a ten shadow Cabinet members were prepared to resign if Benn was sacked, which would have caused a big problem for Corbyn, and this is maybe why he decided to fudge the issue. Maybe better to just sack one largely unheard of member of the team, and a couple lower down the shadow ministerial chain, move Maria Eagle from Defence, only minor resignations, buy some more time?

The other factor of course, is Corbyn himself. He is a genuine guy, and he really does want to practice a new politics, as observed with the complete disregard of managing the media operation surrounding the reshuffle. Unfortunately, the media do matter in politics, and whilst not pandering to them, they need to be manipulated a bit back, not ignored. It all looked a bit shambolic.

Politics though is a dirty game, particularly at the level Corbyn is at now, there are no Marquis of Queensberry rules in politics, and if he doesn’t toughen up, he is probably finished.

I think he may have been better to have got over the resignations and fired Benn if he was unprepared to tow the leadership line in matters of Britain’s foreign military interventions. Corbyn was right to think that we can’t have another occasion like the bombing of Syria debate, where the leader and foreign policy spokesperson are arguing against each other.

It was reported at that time that Benn threatened to make his speech from the back benches if he was sacked and again Corbyn drew back. If he had sacked Benn this week, he would be a thorn in the side on the back benches, but surely this would be better than contradicting Labour from the top table?

It was a risk to keep Benn and also to sack him, but on the balance of probabilities, I think, Corbyn has probably stored up more trouble for the future, rather than less, by keeping him in the leadership team.   

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