30 Nov 2015

Corbyn decision moment looms

Shadow cabinet meets at 1pm today. The biggest decision of Jeremy Corbyn’s brief leadership will happen beforehand in meetings taking place now.

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Should he assert his authority, gambling that a whipped vote against war might just see him heroised as the man who stopped the vote happening at all? Should he take on his critics in the party in the hope that they’ve chosen the wrong, shakiest terrain in which to fight this looming battle and he will reap dividends from taking them on?

Or should he pull back and allow a free vote, pocketing what are undoubted advances in frightening/convincing some Labour MPs away from supporting the government?

One shadow cabinet member reports that the current maths suggests that he would get just over half the PLP on his side in a vote. But over the last few days the number of rebels thought ready to back the government seems to have dropped from close to 100 to closer to 60. He would lose a chunk of his shadow cabinet if he tried to whip them against their pro-war inclinations.

Whatever happened to the mild-mannered pluralist who implied clashes like this could be smoothed over?  The answer appears to be: Seumas Milne.

The veteran Guardian columnist has tried to inject steel into the Corbyn project. This weekend he recruited Len McCluskey to lend a hand, knowing how many MPs are Unite-sponsored.

He recruited Diane Abbott to work the airwaves.

Until Seumas Milne’s arrival you would’ve said John McDonnell was the key counsel, never more than the moment he convinced Jeremy Corbyn to make him shadow chancellor against a lot of advice from others.

But it feels right now that Mr Milne, careful to put “strategy” in his job title along with “communications,” is the key figure. Shadow ministers say he spoke for Jeremy Corbyn at key meetings. One shadow cabinet member said you wonder who is the master and who the aide when you see Seumas Milne and Jeremy Corbyn together. You get a sense of Dirk Bogarde’s “The Servant” listening to some anecdotes.

We should discover in the next few hours whether Mr Milne is going to get to prosecute his plan to completion or not.

UPDATE: I hear Jeremy Corbyn’s office tried to call an emergency NEC meeting this morning but couldn’t get enough people to convene it so didn’t manage. Suggests the hardliners in Team Corbyn had not rolled over whenever that wheeze was tried.

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