Seumas Milne’s appointment as Labour’s new head of communications and director of strategy has generally been met with his dismay in the party — but it does tell us something about Jeremy Corbyn: compromise is not a phrase in the Corbynite dictionary. John McDonnell’s appointment as shadow chancellor was the first hint that beneath Corbyn’s cuddly beard lies a tough ideologue. Milne’s appointment adds credence to that notion. One former Labour staffer describes Milne’s appointment as the ‘icing on the cake’:
‘This is who Jeremy and John wanted from the start. This is who they really are. This is what their politics is about.’
John McTernan, Tony Blair’s political secretary and a former adviser to Jim Murphy takes a slightly different view that Milne is actually the perfect man for the job, noting that the ‘fascination with staffers is one of the least edifying and most unproductive facets of modern politics’:
‘Seumas Milne is the right person for Jeremy Corbyn to have as a Director of Strategy and Communications. The key to senior staff appointments in politics is that they are talented, trusted by the principal and able to say No.
‘Seumas Milne is the first two — the real test is can he do the third. Will he have the authority, internally and with the leader, to stop bad or sometimes simply stupid things happening?’
Given that the last few weeks have continued to be shambolic for Labour, Milne will be watched closely to see if he can bring order to Team Corbyn. But given that his appointment was announced while tax credits were being debated in the Commons and just before the state banquet with the Chinese Prime Minister began, Milne will have to make his mark soon if Labour doesn’t want to annoy the general public — something John Woodcock noted last night on Twitter.
This is not some middle class columnista parlour game, it is people's lives who are being wrecked by the Tories. They deserve better.
— John Woodcock (@JWoodcockMP) October 20, 2015
The biggest risk of Milne’s appointment is that the spin doctor will become the story before he’s even begun. Guido has compiled a list of the controversial views Milne has on topics from Russia to the killing of Lee Rigby. A current Labour staffer believes that Milne is going to be yet another distraction:
‘His views and articles should provide a wealth of stories that will further undermine the Labour Party in the country. I am also sure Labour members would be keen to know how much people like this and the new Director of Policy are getting paid?’
But those in the party who oppose everything Corbyn stands for and are biding their time are actually quietly pleased at his appointment. Accepting there will be collateral damage to Labour’s brand, they believe that Milne will purify Corbyn’s message and bring his leadership to a closer sooner than anticipated. With Milne taking a leave of absence from The Guardian to work for Labour, it suggests he is not in it for the long haul either. Undoubtedly, next May’s elections will be the first big test for the new Labour and his spinner.