Jeremy Corbyn moves to the front bench on a day of stoney faces, applause and cupcakes

The new leader has been a lonely presence on the back benches for 32 years

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Indy Politics

The only time Jeremy Corbyn is known to have sat still for any length of time was while he listened to the opening speeches when the Commons debated the Trade Union Bill. Having been a lonely presence on the back benches for 32 years, he moved to the front bench for the first time ever, flanked by three of the people he had just appointed to his Shadow Cabinet – Diane Abbott, Angela Eagle and John McDonnell.

When midnight struck, just over 14 hours earlier, the new Labour leader was shut in the opposition whips’ office off Parliament’s main lobby, trying to assemble a new top team out of the people prepared to serve under him. There were just four other people helping in this operation – Corbyn’s chief of staff Simon Fletcher, and his deputy, Anneleise Midgley, Labour’s Chief Whip Rosie Winterton and her adviser Luke Sullivan.

 

When Corbyn finally left, he was put out to see a posse of cameras and journalists awaiting him, with questions he did not feel like answering. The result was the “walk of silence”, which can be watched on YouTube, as a stoney-faced Corbyn quick-marched along the pavement, with the mob pursuing.

In the morning, the new leader and his deputy, Tom Watson, paid a goodwill visit to the party’s HQ where – contrary to rumours – he was applauded as he arrived. After watching him chat and scoff cupcakes, one staff member remarked that he was friendlier than Ed Miliband had ever been.

A change of leader does not necessarily affect the working day of junior and middle ranking party staff who keep the organisation ticking over. But for the senior ones, the policy wonks, media manipulators and the organisers who have to umpire political disputes within the party, a change in political direction can be destabilising. But many of them were on contracts that ran out in May, which in some cases were extended for the duration of the leadership campaign.

Numerous senior staff departed at the weekend, including Patrick Hennessy, former political editor of The Sunday Telegraph, who had been acting as the party’s head of communications but has now gone to work for Labour’s London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, and the director of policy, Torsten Henricson-Bell, who has gone to work for the Resolution Foundation think-tank. Bell was the brain behind the famous “Ed Stone” on which Ed Miliband’s election pledges were literally carved in stone.

Carmel Nolan, who handled media relations for the Corbyn campaign, has also gone, leaving him without any experienced journalist to run his or the party’s media operation. Finding staff to fill the void could take longer and be even more difficult than assembling a Shadow Cabinet.

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