Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is planning to reshuffle his Shadow Cabinet in the first week of January – with aides pencilling in an announcement for as early as 4 January. Mr Corbyn wants to assert his authority by dismissing “disloyal” shadow ministers who have openly defied his leadership and questioned whether he will remain in the post until 2020.
He is understood to have made the “seismic” decision to move shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, but will have to withstand furious resistance if he is to force it through. Defence spokeswoman Maria Eagle, her sister Angela – the shadow First Secretary of State – and the chief whip, Rosie Winterton, are also on the brink of being demoted.
Mr Corbyn is due back from a secretive Christmas holiday to Malta on Sunday afternoon, after spending five days on the Mediterranean island, almost entirely cut off from Westminster. The Labour leader ordered aides not to contact him so he could spend time with his wife Laura Alvarez, who chose the holiday.
After touching down at the island’s only airport aboard an easyJet flight from Gatwick on Wednesday, the Labour leader was intercepted trying to walk through the main terminal and diverted to the VIP lounge by a dignitary from the Maltese Prime Minister’s office.
He is now expected to take a short break with his brother Edward in the West Country before returning to London to finish off the reshuffle with his inner circle, including Seumas Milne, his head of communications, and John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor.
The Labour leader and his team want to hit the ground running in 2016 – seen by many as a pivotal year in his leadership, with crunch local and regional elections posing his first major electoral test.
His team have become increasingly angry at the failure of senior shadow cabinet ministers to back their leader in public. They also insist they will not allow another situation in which a shadow minister challenges the leader from the dispatch box, as Mr Benn did over air-strikes on the Islamic State.
A Labour source said: “That will not happen again – it can’t. If you want to do that kind of thing you need to do it from the back benches. It’s about loyalty.”
A reshuffle, the first since Mr Corbyn was elected leader in September, is now planned to go ahead between 4 and 10 January – the first week after the Commons’ Christmas recess. This will allow any changes to be digested before the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday 11 January, although aides admit the deadline could slip.
Diane Abbott is favourite to land the job of shadow Foreign Secretary, with Mr Corbyn keen to ensure at least one of the four top jobs goes to a woman. The shadow Chancellor is secure in his place, so either Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, or Mr Benn will have to go. Mr Burnham, however, is understood to be safe – as long as he is happy to remain.
“He’s done a good job; we don’t have any complaints,” one senior source said.
Corbyn aides have drawn up a list of 30 loyalists set for promotions. Their names will be circulated to the media to be approached as trusted allies of Mr Corbyn. The list is set to include the shadow employment minister Emily Thornberry and up-and-coming Corbynites Richard Burgon and Cat Smith.
One senior Labour MP said Mr Corbyn was being encouraged by his aides, led by his influential spin chief, to “go for broke” in the reshuffle by sacking all his rivals. This would allow him to impose his will in future votes – including the crucial debate on renewing Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, which is expected in early 2016.
However, the MP warned that colleagues could refuse to vote with Mr Corbyn if too many moderates are removed from positions of influence. He said: “He would be wise to go for a ‘mini-reshuffle’ rather than a complete overhaul.”
But senior party sources said the current disunity could not be allowed to continue, adding Mr Corbyn’s team had been incensed by Angela Eagle’s performance on The Andrew Marr Show last week.
Asked whether she would endorse Mr Corbyn as leader of the party in 2020, she could only reply that he was the leader and it was her job “to work with the leader we’ve got”.
A senior source close to the leadership said: “That sort of stuff cannot continue. Everyone in the Shadow Cabinet needs to be able to answer that basic question. It’s as simple as that. If you can’t, what are you doing in the Shadow Cabinet.”
An overhaul of Labour internal party management is also expected in the new year – with the respected general secretary, Iain McNichol, under pressure. Senior party sources said the party’s headquarters in Westminster was filled with Blairite “serial losers” who were not committed to making Mr Corbyn’s leadership a success.
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