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WHAT a pleasant surprise it must have been for Jeremy Corbyn to receive a standing ovation from Labour MPs as he walked into the House of Commons chamber yesterday.
The Labour leader is experienced enough to enjoy the moment without being seduced into believing that the entirety of Labour’s parliamentary representation has performed a political U-turn.
Those who derided him as an irrelevant 1970s throwback incapable of winning over the public have had to eat their words. Acceptance that earlier pronouncements were wrong and that Corbyn’s consistency in the face of media abuse has proven popular with voters has come more easily to some Labour MPs than others.
Only a tiny rump of bitter holdouts, the likes of Chris Leslie, hold to his ludicrous line that Labour’s ability to transform a juggernaut of pro-Tory public opinion, projected to translate into a landslide of Tory MPs, into a hung Parliament constitutes a defeat.
Further that Labour led by someone other than Corbyn could have won a parliamentary majority.
Leslie worried that, if he were to return to the shadow cabinet, he might have to resign if “something would come up which I would disagree with, and these are my principles, whether it is to do with security or the running of the economy.”
Fortunately, the Labour leader is unlikely to place the former minister in such a quandary, perhaps being less convinced of his unique qualities than Leslie is.
While the length of a week in politics is well known, there has been a plethora of comments since Friday, when the scale of the party’s achievement dawned, advising that now is the time to transform Corbyn’s shadow cabinet by bringing back superstars who chose to resign earlier.
John McDonnell is right to point out that the current membership is a winning team that shouldn’t be broken up.
Corbyn was not joking, totally, when he described himself as a “most generous” leader and he is not so inflexible as to refuse a second, or even third, chance to MPs who have spurned his comradeship before.
But he is not a mug. Politeness and good humour don’t serve as cloaks for naivety.
The party leader will reach out to those who recognise not only that they were mistaken in their assessment of where Labour was heading under Corbyn but understand why.
The anti-Corbyn sniping majority acted as they did because of a belief that, in line with New Labour orthodoxy, the party could only gain office by mirroring the neoliberal approach of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies while claiming tactically based marginal policy differences as political principles.
No Corbyn supporter should be turfed out of the shadow cabinet to oblige repentant sinners, but there are junior shadow minister places up for grabs because of the scale of previous co-ordinated resignations.
But those who regret their previous statements and agree to put the party before their egos, whether in junior posts or front-bench vacancies that arise, must understand that self-discipline is required.
They will not be in the shadow cabinet as freelances or in a personal capacity.
The shadow cabinet loyalty demanded by previous Labour leaders is owed equally to Corbyn and should be expressed by a willingness for public campaigning and addressing labour movement events to extend support for the party and its leadership.
Unity remains the key to isolating and defeating the May government and opening the way to a Corbyn premiership.
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