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Jeremy Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet is going to be divisive

14 September 2015

9:27 AM

14 September 2015

9:27 AM

Well, Corbyn really has gone for it. Although the new shadow cabinet is not made up entirely of hard-left appointees, the new Labour leader is taking his mandate seriously. Crucially, making John McDonnell shadow chancellor, whose has said some interesting things about the IRA and wants to nationalise the banks, is a bold move by Corbyn and not one that is going down well.

On the Today programme, the former home secretary Charles Clarke said he was ‘aghast’ at the appointment of McDonnell and predicted that Labour MPs would end up creating their own economic policy alongside whatever McDonnell does. Even Corbyn’s new shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn failed to defend McDonnell’s appointment when directly asked twice. Benn deflected by saying ‘I respect the choice Jeremy has made as leader’ and ‘I welcome everybody who is serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet’.

Elsewhere, Corbyn has appointed Andy Burnham, who came 40 points behind him in the leadership contest, as his shadow home secretary. The other contender for shadow chancellor Angela Eagle, who came fourth in the deputy leadership contest, has been given the conciliation prize of shadow business secretary and shadow first secretary of state. Lucy Powell, who said just a few weeks again she’d never met Corbyn, is the new shadow education secretary. And who could forget Diane Abbott, who has been hanging on Corbyn’s coattails throughout the London Mayoral race and has been appointed shadow international development secretary. We’re still waiting to find out who Corbyn has picked for the key positions of shadow defence secretary and shadow work and pensions secretary.

Two of the most interesting appointments are Lord Falconer, who will stay on as shadow justice secretary, and Heidi Alexander, the new shadow health secretary. Charlie Falconer was Tony Blair’s flatmate and served as Lord Chancellor during the New Labour years. Given how few Blairite faces there are in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, it will be interesting to see how Falconer copes. Alexander on the other hand is a little-known MP who entered the Commons in 2010 and served as a whip under Ed Miliband. Given that the NHS is likely to be a key battleground between Labour and the government over the next few years, Alexander will be one to watch — it’s her job to keep Jeremy Hunt on his toes.

Corbyn’s shadow cabinet looks as it was expected to. Nearly all of the intellectual heft from previous frontbenches is gone, replaced by a handful of long time irritants and troublemakers. But he has persuaded some moderates to stay on. Either these characters will gell together in a surprisingly coherent way, or the whole thing will be a total car crash. But no one can accuse of Corbyn betraying his principles and comrades to Labour’s left.


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