There’s bad policy, then there’s bad leadership. It’s hard enough for the (relatively) sensible members of the Labour front bench to put up with the former, but as the days go by it’s the latter that is really starting to hurt.
Take the grim fate of Maria Eagle as an example. Having had to seek assurances from Jeremy Corbyn that he would follow the Labour Party’s agreed policy on Trident, she has battled in recent weeks against him casting doubt on it on live television. No doubt that was annoying, but it pales in comparison to his decision to appoint Ken Livingstone as co-chair of the defence policy review.
Doing so goes beyond a disagreement, it’s an act of humiliation for Eagle. She now has to treat Livingstone,who opposes Trident renewal, as an equal to herself on her own policy brief. I’ve cited the maxim that “order plus counter-order equals disorder” before, but it is hard to imagine a situation to which it is more appropriate than this.
Red Ken is off to a typically tumultuous start in the job. He dismissed Labour critics of his appointment as “mad” and then refused repeatedly to apologise, and he’s only 24 hours into the job. Eagle is a serious person with ministerial experience, even if she is wrong about a lot of things – having stepped up to serve in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, she now finds herself undermined at every turn.
There are other Shadow Ministers who have had the same experience (Hilary Benn and Lord Falconer have both squirmed on the airwaves more than once), and no doubt more will suffer it in the coming months. They only have themselves to blame – after all, they could have chosen to stay on the back benches like Chuka Umunna, but instead they decided to serve their Party and to try to moderate its new leader on the front bench.
All of which raises the question: how much longer will they put up with this? The influx of Corbynites into Labour’s grassroots makes it very unlikely that any MP will be brave enough to knife him (unless, of course, they are deselected and thus have nothing to lose). But it is still possible for self-respecting frontbenchers to decide they have endured enough humiliation as passengers on the Corbyn clown car, and head to the back benches.