The real villain in the reshuffle is Seamus Milne. Benn should have made a principled resignation not become a lame duck

6 Jan 2016 at 11:28

The real villain in this shambles of a reshuffle is not Jeremy Corbyn but his press secretary Seamus Milne. It’s not surprising that he is known in the lobby as shameless. Corbyn should have taken a lesson from the Margaret Thatcher playbook. She inherited a shadow cabinet who by and large despised her. It was stuffed with patrician politicians who thought that her political philosophy was an aberration and was an anathema to what the Conservative party stood for. Her Shadow Cabinet meetings were hell on earth and she was known to flee to the whips office in tears. But she bided her time before she executed them one by one. The more her power and authority grew the more licence she had to have a cabinet in her own image.

The unforgivable error that the Corbyn media operation made was not imposing discipline on the hotheads who want to wreak revenge and retribution on whom they consider to be Blairite class traitors. They were given a free reign to whisper bile and poison into the eager ears of the press. ‘Revenge reshuffle…..Benn to be sacked…..Winteron to go….’ were not the machinations of a wild eyed Tory press but from briefings from sources close to the leadership. We were all wound up to believe that there was to be a bloodbath which would lead to uproar on the back benches. Well, any fool knows that if Corbyn had stamped his authority on his Shadow cabinet there would have been trouble. But we’re led to believe that this was to be a game of chicken where Corbyn would not blink first.

So now he has achieved the worst of all worlds. Indecision; weakness; the sacking of two talented and popular men. And horror on the back benches at the whole sorry mess. Worst, it has taken away from him a great tactical point. Cameron didn’t want to give his ministers a free for all on the referendum. He had no choice but to change his mind. If Corbyn had made a speedy reshuffle even with compromises, he could have accused Cameron of being running scared of his party. He would be very unwise to try that one. Cameron’s eating of humble pie has produced a warm and fuzzy feeling amongst those colleagues who would happily slot him. He will receive cheers from his backbenchers at PMQs today. Corbyn will be received in sullen silence.

I am not entirely sure that Hilary Benn has come out of all of this with a lot of honour. He has agreed to remain silent in public about policies he profoundly disagrees with. His is a delayed resignation. He would have been wise to have made a principled resignation. He is now a lame duck shadow foreign secretary who will be be made to squirm with embarrassment at any mention of the bombing of Syria and Trident.

Corbyn would have been wise to heed the words of Descartes, ‘Except in our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power. It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.’

This is a rare case where Descartes should have been put before the horses