POLITICS

Labour Reshuffle: 'Sacked' Shadow Cabinet Minister Michael Dugher Accuses Jeremy Corbyn's Team Of Briefing 'Revenge Reshuffle'

05/01/2016 11:00 GMT | Updated 05/01/2016 19:59 GMT
Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Michael Dugher leaves Millbank Studios in London, after he became the first casualty of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet reshuffle as he was sacked from the post of shadow culture secretary.

Labour's civil war continued tonight as the senior MP sacked by Jeremy Corbyn accused his team of deploying a "barrage of briefing" against "good, decent and loyal" members of the Shadow Cabinet.

The Labour leader’s first significant act in the so-called “revenge reshuffle” was this morning to axe Shadow Culture Secretary Michael Dugher for writing a critical piece written for political magazine, the New Statesman.

After seven members of the Shadow Cabinet made public their support for the Barnsley MP, Mr Dugher appeared on BBC Radio 4's PM programme to criticise the "systematic process" of briefing against MPs by Mr Corbyn's inner circle.

The MP, a former Gordon Brown media aide, was among 10 members of the Shadow Cabinet to vote for RAF airstrikes in Syria, which is said to be fuelling the Labour leader’s re-arrangement of his top team.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle and Chief Whip Rosie Winterton featured most often as being vulnerable in recent reports.

corbyn

Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn (left) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons this afternoon

Mr Dugher said: “I was sick and tired over many weeks of stories coming out from people who he chooses to employ.

"There was this barrage of briefing saying that good, decent, loyal members of the shadow Cabinet - named at length - would be fired in a ‘revenge reshuffle’ because they took a different position to Jeremy on a free vote on Syria.”

He also stood by comments criticising the Momentum campaign group, which was set up to champion Jeremy Corbyn and his policies, and labelling some of their members as acting like a "mob".

“You will not find a quote from me attacking Jeremy Corbyn," he said. "The comments I made about Momentum? I said at times - at times - they had acted like a mob.

"The way that many of them have taken to social media, condemned good Labour MPs because they took a very difficult decision on military action, extending it from northern Iraq to Syria ... that these colleagues were being condemned as 'Red Tories' and they should be kicked out the party.

"In fairness, Jeremy Corbyn spoke out against this abuse as well. I was critical of Momentum and rightly so."

He also questioned the time it was taking to get the job done as details were looking like they may not emerge for another day. “If you’re going to spend three days doing it, fine. But that could be three days attacking the Conservatives,” he said.

Mr Dugher took to Twitter straight after a getting a phone from Mr Corbyn to announce he had been "sacked" - then added it was because Mr Corbyn “didn’t like things I’d been writing (in defence of good colleagues and new politics)”.

Significantly, Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, heaped praise on Mr Dugher as he recognised the "loss" to the Shadow Cabinet.

He said: "Michael Dugher is a rare politician - a talented working class MP who hasn't lost his strong Yorkshire roots.

"Politicians with his ability and commitment can make a difference in any role. Labour's loss in the Shadow Cabinet will be compensated by Michael's free thought on the backbenches."

Labour jeopardising its working-class origins was picked up on by a number of Labour MPs, and could be seen as a swipe by them at Mr Corbyn's comfortable upbringing.

The picture is a reference to the controversial tweet made by Labour MP Emily Thornberry, apparently sneering at working-class families, which saw her lose her front bench job under Ed Miliband. She has been touted for promotion under Mr Corbyn.

Mr Dugher wrote last week about a “revenge reshuffle” not being very "new politics".

“I was also attracted by Jeremy’s call for a new, kinder politics. This would be one where there would be room for a little dissent and where the party, including the Shadow Cabinet, would have the confidence to have proper debates and discussions.

“What greater evidence of this than his decision that, despite his strong opposition to military action, there should be a free vote on Syria? And his insistence that all sides of the debate should respect one another’s different but sincerely held points of view.”

Andy Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary, also praised Mr Dugher, who ran his leadership campaign.

Vernon Coaker, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, paid tribute.

As did Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell.

And another member of the Shadow Cabinet, Jon Ashworth, offered his support too.

They were followed by Ian Murray, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

And Chris Bryant, the Shadow Leader of the House.

But the wall of praise was not thought to be an orchestrated attempt to undermine the leader.

Though the sacking prompted many Labour backbench MPs to condemn the move.

Tory culture minister Ed Vaizey even chipped in.

And political observers suggested there would be unintended consequences.

Mr Corbyn is expected to confirm his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle on today amid continuing doubt over the role of key figures on his frontbench.

The Labour leader had an hour-long meeting in his Commons office on Monday night with Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn and a half-hour meeting with Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle.

Mr Corbyn is understood to want greater "coherence" on foreign and defence policy after damaging divisions over Syria and Trident of late, in order to allow him to focus on the unity within the Parliamentary party over domestic and economic policy.

But he is also keen to avoid further damage that could be triggered by moving Mr Benn, as well as Shadow Chief Whip Rosie Winterton. Ms Winterton is said to have warned the leader of a wider walkout if Mr Benn was fired.