Writing articles about Corbyn reshuffles is a tricky task – not least because he has a tendency to stop and start, leaving us waiting for hours then suddenly rushing out a series of appointments. This makes it impossible to predict when the process is going to end. Indeed, given that this is the fourth reshuffle in just over a year, and that various posts were left empty after the summer rebellion, one could argue that Corbyn’s reshuffle process never ends. Perhaps he’s inspired by Trotsky’s theme of permanent revolution, or perhaps he just isn’t very good at leading a political party.
Either way, the latest reshuffle has stalled today, after eleven appointments overnight. Some of the top team aren’t going to be moved, apparently, though the specific details of who is staying in post are yet to be confirmed (a list distributed of northern MPs in the Shadow Cabinet includes names whose jobs are yet to be confirmed).
This means that while we can’t draw full and final conclusions, we can at least take an initial look at what we do know about the shape of the Shadow Cabinet thus far. Here are their names:
Jon Ashworth – Shadow Health Secretary
Diane Abbott – Shadow Home Secretary
Nick Brown – Opposition Chief Whip
Dawn Butler – Shadow Minister for Minority Ethnic Communities
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti – Shadow Attorney General
Sarah Champion – Shadow Women and Equalities Minister
Jeremy Corbyn – Leader of the Opposition
Nia Griffith – Shadow Defence Secretary
Clive Lewis – Shadow Business Secretary
John McDonnell – Shadow Chancellor
Jonathan Reynolds – Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury
Sir Keir Starmer – Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European union
Jo Stevens – Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Emily Thornberry – Shadow Foreign Secretary
Jon Trickett – Shadow Lord President of the Council
Tom Watson – Deputy Leader
People have already noted the London-dominance of the line-up. The Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Brexit Secretary hold contiguous constituencies in North London – meaning four of the five most important jobs have gone to MPs who are close neighbours. The fifth, Shadow Chancellor, is held by McDonnell, whose seat is in West London.
But it’s also worth having a look at the electoral profile of the seats these MPs represent. Not including Baroness Chakrabarti, for obvious reasons, the 15 MPs we know of so far have an average majority of 13,137 votes. Only one – Jo Stevens in Cardiff Central – has a majority below 5,000 votes.
This should raise some concerns among the already worried Labour MPs in marginal seats. They already fear that Corbynism is an indulgent exercise in putting purity of socialist essence ahead of winning seats. Not for nothing did Owen Smith chose to put him on the spot for not knowing how many new seats Labour need to win to gain a majority – his critics suspect he isn’t that interested in the hard work of doing so, and wouldn’t know where to start if he did. There’s also a more poisonous suspicion – that Corbyn doesn’t worry too much about losing seats in the next election precisely because a lot of the most marginal are held by his opponents. It’s fair to say that the political priorities of those fighting for their political lives to win votes off the Conservatives, UKIP or the Lib Dems are very different to those Corbynite loyalists who are sitting pretty on five-figure majorities.
It is of course possible for a ministerial team to enjoy large majorities but still be concerned about the needs of their more marginal colleagues. May’s Cabinet colleagues enjoy an even larger average majority of 17,050 votes. But her MPs are in no doubt that she wants them all to keep their seats, and to make sizeable gains at the next election by attracting millions of new voters. She has gone out of her way to assure them of that, and her actions bear it out. Given that the Parliamentary Labour Party have no such faith in their leader, and that he has made no equivalent effort at all, his apparent decision to leave marginal voices out of his top team will do nothing to reassure them.