It is hard to describe Jeremy Corbyn’s four month leadership of the Labour Party has having had a ‘honeymoon period’ as such, but it is true that for many MPs they have spent the period giving the new Leader a chance, and respecting his overwhelming mandate with party members. The number of MPs in active, vocal public rebellion has actually been relatively few.
All that changed this week with the so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’ which included the sacking of popular Shadow Ministers including Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden, and the demotion of Shadow Defence Secretary Angela Eagle. Their crimes? Eagle’s was to back Labour’s existing defence policy of supporting the renewal of Trident, while for McFadden he stood accused of using an attack on ISIS as a coded way of attacking the party leader. Dugher’s charge sheet was longer, in the eyes of the Corbynistas, and he was accused of both incompetence and disloyalty. Three other Shadow Ministers resigned in protest and an atmosphere of rancour descended into one of pure poison at times, with Labour MPs openly abusing each other in both mainstream and social media.
The anger of Labour MPs lay not just in the supposed ‘sectarian’ nature of the reshuffle, but also in its incompetence. For some weeks over Christmas, Corbyn’s team had led the media to believe that Hilary Benn would be the most high-profile victim of the purge. In the event, Benn survived after the Whips Office advised the Leader that half the Shadow Cabinet would resign if Benn was fired. This interruption to their plans meant the process took four whole days, leaving journalists camped outside the Opposition Leaders office day-after-day waiting for titbits of news. It is never smart to upset the press pack, and the consequence of their tired, frustrated and hungry state was some pretty dreadful press coverage all round and the creation of the hashtag #omnishamblesshuffle to report the news.
As bad as things have been until now, things changed again in Jeremy Corbyn’s relationship with his MPs this week. It has always been poor but the sackings of McFadden and Dugher have turned alarm into anger, and a desire for vengeance is for the first time in the air. To paraphrase a great man, this is not the end for Corbyn. Far from it. It is not even the beginning of the end. There is a long way to go. But from now on, a large group of MPs are actively planning how and when to try to bring him down. It is, certainly, the end of the beginning.