Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet reshuffle has caused the kind of faux shock and horror we have come to expect from the Labour’s right and the press. It was inevitable that following Corbyn’s re-election a new shadow cabinet would have to be constructed, not just to replace those who staged their resignations to try to oust Corbyn, but also — for Corbyn and his allies — to show some level of “unity” in the Party.
Whatever the result of the reshuffle, it will be down to the Labour membership to push for policy to be decided democratically and not at the diktat of Shadow Ministers. In that spirit the appointment of Tom Watson to Culture, Media and Sport and Jon Ashworth to Health along with Nick Brown to Chief Whip should not be viewed as disastrous. But it is striking that the call for “unity” from the Corbyn leadership can be expressed in further compromise with the right wing of the Labour Party, the same group that could in the future undermine the leadership.
As the right were always going to condemn some appointments — several MPs once again refused to be given positions, some resigned when Rosie Winterton the Chief Whip was sacked etc. — Corbyn may have been better off appointing who he wanted and taking a stronger stance.
Three things seem to have riled left and right.
The appointment of Jon Ashworth to Health is a compromise and it makes it less likely that the Shadow Cabinet will back the junior doctors’ dispute openly or take up the idea of renationalising the Health Service. His appointment has coincided with his resignation from the National Executive and replacement with Corbyn ally Kate Osamor. The NEC composition has swung back in Corbyn’s favour. This may prove to be a sensible move if Labour members campaign alongside Momentum and Momentum NHS for clear left wing policy on the NHS and don’t allow Ashworth to have his way.
Clive Lewis has been moved from Defence to Business; this is being interpreted as a response to his pro-Trident and NATO comments in his speech at Labour conference. Lewis was wrong about both of these things, so replacing him with unilateralist Nia Griffith makes sense.
Most controversial has been the appointment of Diane Abbott as Home Secretary. Almost immediately subjected to vile sexist and racist abuse, Abbott is by no means a great representative of working-class interest. But she has in the broad sense been on the side of the views of the membership on key issues and opposes an increase in anti-migrant rhetoric and opinion among Labour MPs.
With a cabinet now more diverse and more gender balanced than at any point in Labour Party history Corbyn must now silence his critics by ensuring that bold socialist policy is fought for and galvanise members to fight to transform the party. These are the only measure that will stop those in the Shadow Cabinet who still want him out.