Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
Last week was a difficult one for Labour, to say the least. Before Christmas, rumours started flying around Westminster and in the media that the Labour leader was going to axe those who had loudly and constantly disagreed with him.
After probably having ruined the Christmas of those concerned, last week we saw the ‘revenge reshuffle’ finally commence. It quickly descended into an almighty mess; all that needs to be said is that ultimately more frontbenchers resigned than were fired. It turns out that party management is not as easy as some may have thought!
I do not criticise Jeremy Corbyn for wanting to hold this reshuffle, because in doing so he’s finally moved himself into a position where he should have been to start with. A serious political party cannot have shadow cabinet members openly and publicly disagreeing about important subjects.
It may be seen as a part of a ‘new politics’; and there should always be room for healthy discussion about policy at the top of a party. However, the public have a right to know what policy Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition would follow if they voted for a Labour Government with Corbyn as Prime Minister. There has to be clarity for Labour to be taken as a serious electoral prospect again.
So the reshuffle itself is not a problem: we now have a Labour front bench team that are a more accurate representation of its leader’s beliefs. However, I think we all have reason to be concerned about the choices that were made, and the priorities that were shown.
After the terrible attacks in Paris, Pat McFadden, the Shadow Europe Minister, asked the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist attacks as the fault of the West, rather than as the responsibility of those who undertake them. McFadden was fired for asking this question.
Maria Eagle was put in place as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence only four months ago, and was appointed to lead an ‘evidence-based’ Defence review, including of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Corbyn was obviously concerned about the outcome, even after appointing Ken Livingstone as co-chair, so Eagle has now been moved from this role.
You can talk about the rest of the reshuffle and find plenty to criticise. You can argue that it was terribly organised, and that reshuffles led by a strong leader wouldn’t include days of negotiations. You can argue that the removal of Michael Dugher from the front bench, and the promotion of Emily Thornberry, is a sign that Labour are more concerned with placating their increasingly North London-based membership, than winning back the working class votes they’re losing in the North.
However, ultimately I’m not bothered about those other issues, because they are only Labour damaging themselves. I’m much more concerned about Labour damaging our country.
This reshuffle was not about creating a Labour team that is better equipped to be an opposition to my party – this was entirely about destroying the national security consensus that the two serious parties of government have broadly maintained since Attlee.
It’s not hard to make an assumption as to the outcome of Labour’s review, now that it will be run by two individuals who have already stated their opposition to the Trident programme. We’re told by Labour spokespeople that we no longer live in the Cold War. But I’d challenge anyone to look around the world and see no potential for future nuclear threats.
Russia has become more aggressive and has stolen territory from Ukraine, North Korea started 2016 by testing a new nuclear device, and there are concerns about Iran again after missile tests before Christmas. This is an uncertain world, and if we get rid of Trident we cannot get it back. The ‘I told you so’ moment would be our last.
The threat from terrorism is more immediate, though, and Corbyn’s actions in this area are even more concerning for me. It deserves to be stated again and again, with increasing disbelief, that the Labour leader fired a shadow minister for stating that terrorists alone are responsible for their actions.
He didn’t think McFadden was slightly wrong; he didn’t ask for clarification, or enter into a discussion. He saw McFadden’s position, stated in that question, as so entirely wrong that he needed to be sacked. Following on from comments last year that he has reservations about the policy of ‘shoot to kill’ against terrorists, there are valid grounds for concern.
A tourist hotel was attacked by terrorists in Egypt on Friday. This is after a 2015 that saw two attacks in Paris, an attack in Beirut, the bombing of a jet over the Sinai, the murder of British tourists in Tunisia and seven attacks were foiled at home.
Corbyn has now made it clear that his priority in the next year is trying to scrap Trident, and he has no interest in condemning terrorists as responsible for their own actions.
There is often outrage whenever a Conservative says that Corbyn is a threat to national security. I actually do not think he intends to be, and that his actions are borne from naivety. However, this is not good enough for a potential Prime Minister. The last week shows that if he came anywhere near Number 10, our national security would suffer.