Have Labour MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn just given up? Given many of them have chosen to stay on the frontbench after the reshuffle in which the Labour leader made clear that it was his way or the highway, and also that he does want to change party policy on Trident after all, it looks as though many have just resigned themselves to a miserable few years in which they struggle to mount any meaningful resistance to the Labour leader.
It’s certainly true that Corbyn’s opponents don’t have a clear plan for removing him. Some of them have concluded that the best option is for the unions to turn against him, joining the parliamentary Labour party in their opposition. Trying to turn Labour into a unilateralist party would be one way Corbyn could turn the GMB against him, something Sir Paul Kenny made quite clear yesterday. But many of the Labour-affiliated unions do not have an interest in Trident. Instead, or at least so the theory goes, they may drop their support for the Labour leader if he and his team appear too disorganised. ‘Unions are all about organisation,’ explains one Labourite. ‘The competence thing is a big deal to them. And so far Jeremy’s not living up to it.’
But this still leaves the party membership, which does think Corbyn is living up to expectations. And on this, the only plan Labourites seem to have, beyond trying to take as many Corbynite members out on the doorstep so that they see how unimpressed voters are, is to undermine the Labour leader’s narrative of a ‘new, kinder politics’. That’s why so many of them have been highlighting what they see as old school political briefings from Corbyn’s team about the reshuffle. Corbyn’s aides deny that they were responsible for briefings of a ‘revenge reshuffle’ or that they were planning a purge of what one source described to the Independent on Sunday as Blairite ‘serial losers’ in the party’s HQ. And there is some suspicion that some a little further out from the Corbyn press team have indulged in some freelance work, too.
But I understand that Corbyn didn’t deny his aides had been briefing about names when confronted about it by shadow ministers in meetings during the reshuffle. This may have been because Corbyn didn’t know what his aides had been up to, and therefore didn’t feel confident about denying anything. But this makes him vulnerable to the accusation that he is not competently leading his own team, and that makes him vulnerable in the unions’ eyes.
The Corbynites realise that their major mistake was to not shut down reports about the reshuffle sooner, which is another matter of competence. But they also need to shut down any suggestion that they are operating in an old, unkind political manner, given that behaving in the opposite fashion was one of Corbyn’s unique selling points in the leadership contest.