You cannot win with the Corbyn coterie

First published on the Huffington Post

The first victim of the bullying that surrounds the Jeremy Corbyn leadership personality cult and the associated Momentum crew was not a former leadership candidate or a ‘red Tory’ who served under Gordon Brown – or, worse, Tony Blair’ – but a lovely woman who only joined the House of Commons in 2010. Pat Glass did not support Corbyn over the summer but both served and took promotions (not one, but two) when well-meaning colleagues resigned or were sacked. In January, after Pat McFadden was singled out for calling terrorists ‘adults’ in charge of their own actions, she was asked to replace him, and did. When Lucy Powell resigned, she stepped up to be the shadow education secretary. None of this stopped her local Momentum group standing against and defeating her husband as campaign coordinator of the local party and threatening her with deselection. After two days shadowing Nicky Morgan, she resigned the frontbench and said she will stand down from parliament at the next election. The referendum campaign had been ‘bruising’ and taken too much of a toll.

As people consider whether they will serve again – Corbyn has said he will publicly announce his new team in the days that follow Conservative party conference – her experience stands out.

But while Glass was prepared to play ball, she was no ‘loyalist’. That is why Corbyn’s office will be watching from behind a pillow as the treatment of Clive Lewis unfolds. Communicating with a shadow cabinet member by Post-it note was a self-inflicted blunder. The fact that it was over an important policy issue, one where Lewis was trying to heal the party and reconcile the democratically agreed party policy – and given that the vote on Trident in parliament has already happened – is more worrying still. But the fact also that it happened to a close ally, someone who has been on hand to defend Corbyn, has been noticed by those unsure that they will receive the respect they deserve if they do return.

However, the words of John Rees – formerly general secretary of Respect and candidate against Liam Byrne in his 2004 byelection turned People’s Assembly spokesperson – which singled out Labour members of parliament in general and Lewis in particular will be a blow to Corbyn forming a half-decent frontbench. It sends the message that nothing short of total conformity is good enough. You are expected to leave your brain at the door to serve Corbyn. In fact, it shows that it is the MPs that do serve who could be singled out for intimidation and deselection if they ever find themselves at odds with the leader – something all frontbenchers worth their salt do with all leaders from time to time.

Corbyn is trying his hardest to put together a top team without having to give shadow cabinet elections – which he used to support – or demote the divisive shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Like Seumas Milne’s Post-it note, Rees’ comments toward Lewis and his colleagues are yet another avoidable gaffe. It is a sure sign that Corbyn’s call for unity is not without the abuse that has marked his leadership’s first 12 months.

Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell

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