Jeremy Corbyn Tells Reporters To Stop Hanging Around His Office As Labour Leader Plots 'Revenge Reshuffle'

04/01/2016 15:53 | Updated 04 January 2016
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Jeremy Corbyn has told reporters in Westminster to stop hanging around his office as he prepares to announce a new-look top team possibly free of critics.

Speculation is mounting the Labour leader is plotting a “revenge reshuffle” to sack or move Shadow Cabinet figures who defied his call to vote against bombing Syria, despite granting them a free vote.

The Huffington Post reported this morning the Labour leader has begun to finalise the new line-up, but he has given short shrift to correspondents sniffing out a scoop.

It came as Ken Livingstone, a close ally of Mr Corbyn, said the idea the reshuffle was an act of “revenge” has been stoked by Labour MPs trying to “undermine” their leader.

The former London mayor also signalled Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn should be moved to a new berth where he is in “agreement” with his boss.

Mr Benn, whose speech closing the Syria debate, and calling for MPs to support airstrikes to crush ISIL “fascists”, was highly-praised, is thought to be most at risk.

Others in the firing line are thought to include Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle and chief whip, Rosie Winterton.

Shadow Foreign Minister Pat McFadden last night warned that using the Syria vote for a “revenge reshuffle” would be “a risk” and “a danger” for Mr Corbyn himself.

Speaking on Radio 4’s World at One, Mr Livingstone downplayed the idea of a “great purge”.

He said: “I do know this Jeremy Corbyn and his key advisers have not been briefing the Press that there’s going to be this great purge. That’s come from people who don’t know what they’re talking about and aren’t in the inner circle of Jeremy Corbyn, or even perhaps in some cases people who just want to carry on trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn from the back benches.”

But he made clear that it was “counter-productive” to have Mr Benn in his existing role. One suggestion has been for Mr Benn to swap roles with Home Secretary Andy Burnham, who voted against airstrikes.

Mr Livingstone went on that “allowing genuine debate is one thing” but the fall-out over the Syria vote led to “days of press coverage about splits between Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn”.

He said: “I think that’s counter-productive. It might very well be the case - and I have no knowledge of this - that it would be better to move Hilary Benn to something where he is in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn rather than where he is in disagreement.”

Jeremy Corbyn Interviewed For HuffPostUK

Shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher, who could also be moved or axed, told Radio 5 Live on Sunday the leader would end up with a "politburo of seven" at the top of the party if he attempted to surround himself with allies from the Labour left.

Parliament returns from its Christmas break tomorrow, making today the perfect day to unveil changes to the top team before Commons business resumes, according to some insiders.

Mr Corbyn ally Clive Lewis is seen as a possible replacement for Ms Eagle as Shadow Defence Secretary, but some party sources suggest the risk of a walkout from her sister Angela, the Shadow Business Secretary and Mr Corbyn's stand-in at PMQs, is too great.

Mr Lewis told the BBC that reshuffles were "one of the benefits and perks of being a leader" and played down his chances of being offered a big job.

"If Jeremy Corbyn offered me that and said, ‘I need this, I need you to do it, this is essential that you do it,’ I would have to think about it," he said.

Diane Abbott today dismissed as 'poppycock and piffle' claims that she would replace Mr Benn.

Speaking to the BBC's Vanessa Feltz, the Shadow International Development Secretary: "It's completely untrue, I've never been offered the job of Foreign Secretary. There was never any question of me being offered it, or of it being debated.”

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