UK Politics

Corbyn's reshuffle: Midnight and all's quiet in the stairwell

Houses of Parliament

For hours, reporters loitered in a stairwell for news of Jeremy Corbyn's reshuffle.

And for hours, we learnt nothing.

A passing Conservative MP, who is pregnant, suggested her labour might be over before Labour's reshuffle was.

One of my Twitter followers suggested the DFS sale might even have finished by the time we heard any news.

So, we waited.

Half a dozen of us doing what comes best to reporters.

Hanging around doing nothing.

Two MPs kindly brought us a drink.

Another offered the use of his office kettle.

On the walls around us, pictures of senior politicians down the ages.

Image caption Hilary Benn escaped Jeremy Corbyn's axe

I had Frederick North, the Second Earl of Guilford, for company, prime minister from 1770-1782, apparently.

I wonder what he would have made of it all.

Twitter might have taken some explaining to the Earl for a start.

Occasionally there would be flurry of excitement as the lift went past.

The good news is it was a glass lift.

The bad news is it zipped past rather quickly.

Then, just before midnight, what counted for a dramatic development.

Jeremy Corbyn was going home.

He was going to bed.

Good for him.

We weren't.

We still didn't have any news.

And, when it came, it wasn't so much the Night of the Long Knives as just a Very Long Night.

Very little actually changed.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Michael Dugher warned the leader's office not to get into a debate about loyalty

Both this and the time the reshuffle took are indications of Mr Corbyn's limited room for manoeuvre.

"We never intended to have a Big Bang," Labour sources insisted.

With more than a hint of the absurd, us stairwell dwellers were then invited in for a briefing, well after midnight.

I've been to "early morning" briefings before, but this was a new spin on that genre.

In the briefing, Labour sources, as I'm obliged to call them, were clear about Jeremy Corbyn's goal: greater coherence on policy and less tolerance for what one called "abuse" from his colleagues.

And yet, take a look to the language used to justify the sacking of shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher: he was branded not just "disloyal" but "incompetent."

Mr Dugher told me it wasn't sensible for the leader's office to get into a debate with him about "loyalty" or "competence."

Pat McFadden, who had been shadow Europe minister, was "serially disloyal," sources said.

Friends of Mr McFadden expressed their anger, with one suggesting the Labour Party was being "driven off a cliff."

There's been a coarsening of language within the Labour movement in recent months when parts of it choose to describe their colleagues.

And this reshuffle has done nothing to change that.

It's also done nothing to change Jeremy Corbyn's fundamental challenge, of which this was just the latest case study: how does he square managing a party where plenty of his party members love him, but plenty of his MPs think he's a nightmare?

That question rumbles on.

But, thankfully, my stairwell loitering does not.

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