UK Politics

Labour front bench: 14 'would return' if Corbyn wins

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright Getty Images

Fourteen Labour MPs who quit frontbench posts this summer in protest at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership have said they could return if the party re-elected him in the current leadership election.

Five told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend they would do so if asked by Mr Corbyn; others said they would stand if shadow cabinet elections were revived.

In June, 20 members of the shadow cabinet resigned, and one was sacked, over differences with Mr Corbyn.

The party's vote concludes on Saturday.

Mr Corbyn is being challenged for the leadership by Owen Smith, a former shadow work and pensions secretary.

The contest was sparked by a vote among Labour MPs, in which 172 expressed no confidence in Mr Corbyn's leadership and just 40 backed him.

Guide to the Labour leadership election

Clive Efford, who resigned as shadow sports minister, said MPs who opposed Mr Corbyn had to serve under him.

"I've spoken to many members of the party who understand that Jeremy Corbyn is not seen by many people as a prime minister in waiting but are still going to vote for him because they felt there were parts of the parliamentary Labour Party that never gave him a chance, that we never really respected the vote that was given by party members and we don't deserve to be rewarded as a consequence of that," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lucy Powell said allowing Labour members to vote for the shadow cabinet would "miss the point"

"Whoever wins, they want to see the party back as an effective opposition so if there's a role for me in that, I would consider it."

Mr Efford said he had not changed his views on Mr Corbyn's leadership but "the party has spoken".

Three-way election

The party's national executive committee meets on Tuesday and will consider a plan put forward by MPs to allow the parliamentary party - its MPs and peers currently serving in Westminster - to elect the shadow cabinet, as part of efforts to reunite the party as a whole.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an ally of Mr Corbyn, confirmed that the party was considering allowing both Labour MPs and party members to vote on who should be in the shadow cabinet.

Shadow cabinet elections were discontinued during Ed Miliband's leadership.

Newspaper reports suggested that, under the new plan, a third of Labour's top team could be elected by the parliamentary party, another third by the party membership, and the final third chosen by the leader.

Image caption Clive Lewis said Labour MPs and party members may both be able to vote in a shadow cabinet election

Mr Corbyn has not given his support to the proposal but has indicated he would back members having a say.

Ian Murray, who resigned as shadow Scottish secretary, described the plan for MPs to elect the shadow cabinet as a sign that Mr Corbyn's opponents "are willing to meet the leader halfway if he is serious about uniting the party".

"He has to take that olive branch, he has to grab it with both hands and he has to try to unite the parliamentary party and the entire Labour movement."

Mr Murray said that - if elections for the cabinet were held - he "would be thinking about putting my name forward".

But he said there had to be "some kind of conditions attached".

"One of them is no deselection [of MPs]. The second one I think is clarity about what the party within a party, Momentum, is there for."

What is Momentum and why is it worrying Labour MPs

However, Lucy Powell, who resigned as shadow education secretary, said that allowing members to vote "misses the point".

"The issue is not that we have a competition for places, and therefore we need a very lengthy and competitive process," she told the World This Weekend.

"We've got vacancies so it's about how we can persuade people to come back to the table."

She said allowing MPs to elect some members of the shadow cabinet in exchange for accepting collective responsibility would be a compromise on both sides.

Asked if she would stand for election, Ms Powell said: "I will take soundings from colleagues as things move forward."

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Owen Smith (right) claims Mr Corbyn is trying to "cement his own position" rather than reunite the party

With just six days to go before the leadership contests ends, Owen Smith accused Mr Corbyn of seeking to "deepen divisions" between the party's membership - seen as overwhelmingly in favour of the leader - and its MPs - who are largely opposed to Mr Corbyn.

Speaking to Sky News, he said reports that party members could be given a role in electing the shadow cabinet and shaping policy "isn't a conciliatory gesture".

"It's an attempt to further cement his position and to use the membership as a means of driving a wedge between the MPs and his leadership."


Analysis

By John Pienaar, BBC deputy political editor

An extraordinary olive branch to hostile Labour MPs, after the rebellion of the summer and the failed attempt to force the leader's resignation, has emerged.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell - Jeremy Corbyn's closest friend and chief lieutenant at Westminster - said the Labour leader and himself were willing to take lessons in leadership.

"Tutorials" from former senior ministers and shadow ministers would answer accusations of incompetence, improve their performance in the House of Commons and improve relations with Labour colleagues at Westminster.

"A bit of tutoring from some old hands?" I asked him.

"Well, why not?" he replied. "Why not?"

More here


Earlier, Mr Corbyn told ITV's Peston on Sunday Labour under his leadership was reaching out to voters across the UK.

Asked how he could appeal to centre-ground voters, he said: "Do we want an education service that works for all or works for the few?

"Do we want a health service that works for everybody, or a health service of last resort for those that can't afford to go private?

"Do we want an investment strategy that builds railways and broadband communication over the whole of the country?

"Do we want a government that actually works for the whole country and reaches out to those places that have been left behind? That's what we're offering."

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Media captionLord Kinnock: "This is the biggest crisis that the Labour Party has faced"

Ex-party leader Lord Kinnock told the BBC the party faced a "lifetime" out of power if Mr Corbyn won the leadership contest.

Speaking to the BBC's Panorama programme, Lord Kinnock said: "Unless things change radically, and rapidly, it's very doubtful I'll see another Labour government in my lifetime."

Panorama's investigation Labour: Is The Party Over? - including the full interview with Lord Kinnock - is on BBC One on Monday at 2030 BST and will be available on the iPlayer afterwards.

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