25 Sep 2016

Corbyn’s critics waiting for the olive branch

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jeremy Corbyn MP gestures to supporters after being announced as the leader of the Labour Party on the eve of the party's annual conference at the ACC on September 24, 2016 in Liverpool, England. The leadership battle between Jeremy Corbyn and MP for Pontypridd Owen Smith, was triggered by Labour MPs who were unhappy with Mr Corbyn's leadership in the run up to the Brexit referendum. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn is talking about extending an olive branch to his defeated MPs but his opponents say they haven’t seen it yet.

On Marr on the BBC this morning, the Labour leader left open the possibility of some de-selections.

He’s showing no inclination to adopt the idea of an elected shadow cabinet, strongly punted by Deputy Leader Tom Watson. For MPs who quit the frontbench in an attempt to bring down Jeremy Corbyn, this it is argued is a dignified way back in. For some of Mr Corbyn’s top team, it looks like a giant trap with a neon sign saying “Trap” on it. The MPs would not only try to stymie Mr Corbyn’s policy moves, they’d be entitled to 3 places on the party’s governing National Executive Committee. On both counts, the leadership is walking away from this proposal and working up some of its own.

The National Executive Committee is now expected to have an “awayday” to discuss party rules and organisation on 22nd November. There could be another attempt to change composition there. That could also be when the leadership unveils plans to have digital plebiscites of the membership on some policy issues. Certain trade unions are on the same page as Centre/Right MPs on that one, nervous that Mr Corbyn will use it to push his own policy agenda. Some unions are more at ease with such a rule change.

It sounds as though threats to the Labour General Secretary Iain McNichol have abated. It’s thought his own union, the GMB, which also represents quite a few other officials in the Labour HQ and regional offices, may have issued a pretty stern warning to the leadership not to try to pay off officials it thinks are using their positions to hamper Mr Corbyn’s project.

There was one solitary shout of “resign” as Iain McNicol, the party general secretary, got to the podium to address Labour Conference.

Unlike the battles of the 1970s and 1980s, this phase in Labour’s war doesn’t look like being played out on the Conference platform. There was a Labour First fringe meeting where the passions were on display. MPs Ruth Smeeth, Hilary Benn, Michael Dugher, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle and Vernon Coaker pleaded with like-minded members not to quit. They later addressed some over-spill from the meeting by the bins round the back of the building they were meeting in. The imagery underlines their plight.

And next year it will be tougher still for them. Most party figures I’ve spoken to think the constituency section of the hall is split 50/50 between pro and anti┬áCorbyn supporters. Next year, the balance is expected to tip heavily in Mr Corbyn’s direction.

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