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Labour Staff Fear Corbyn Is Planning To Centralise Power In The Party

Existing shadow cabinet advisers are concerned that Corbyn could be about to pool staff and ensure they are more left-wing.

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Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queen's Hall, Winter Gardens, Margate, for a campaign rally with supporters.
Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire/PA Images

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queen's Hall, Winter Gardens, Margate, for a campaign rally with supporters.

Jeremy Corbyn could cement his power over Labour by depriving shadow cabinet members of the right to have their own teams of advisers, according to three current Labour employees who fear the party will see a large-scale departure of experienced staff if the left-wing MP is elected party leader on Saturday.

One suggestion under discussion, according to current Labour staff, would see Corbyn pool shadow cabinet advisers into a central secretariat and then allocate them to shadow ministers only when required for policy and media work.

This would give Corbyn's team much more central control over staffing and reduce the ability of individual shadow ministers to build up rival power bases.

"It seems like it'd be done on the basis of ideology," said one current Labour shadow cabinet adviser who suggested the plan could be used as an excuse to give jobs to Corbyn's left-wing supporters. "Are there enough people with that ideology who have the knowledge of parliament, knowledge of the media? You could see a load of CND campaign officers with jobs."

If Corbyn is announced as Labour leader on Saturday, he will have to swiftly appoint a shadow cabinet team that would be likely to feature a radically different line-up of MPs to the current one due to his relatively small support base in the House of Commons. In the process, many experienced backroom staff who have spent years working with existing shadow ministers risk losing their jobs, because staff contracts expire if shadow cabinet members are moved to different positions.

Two senior shadow cabinet advisers told BuzzFeed News that they are already dusting off their CVs and submitting job applications for roles outside parliament in anticipation that Corbyn's victory will see their bosses lose their shadow ministerial roles.

Corbyn's staff declined to comment on the suggestion that they are considering pooling advisers, insisting that they were entirely focused on ensuring their candidate is victorious in the leadership election and had not made any decisions on staffing issues. A similar system has been used by the SNP at Westminster to coordinate support for their MPs.

One adviser said the decision would ultimately come down to whether Corbyn's team believe they have enough power to force through a large-scale reorganisation of the party in his first days as leader. A lot depends on whether shadow cabinet appointees are willing to serve under him if it means losing the right to some staff. "Theoretically Corbyn could only give contracts to certain people," said one Labour staffer. "But the flipside of that is that the shadow cabinet members would have to accept that."

One adviser for a serving shadow cabinet minister said they feared the Conservatives would take advantage of Labour's exodus of institutional knowledge to pass bad legislation and raised concerns about whether Corbyn's supporters are capable of scrutinising government policy.

"They're good at making noise, but the actual work of opposition is a very different matter," they said. "The people who Corbyn wants to put into the shadow cabinet – Chi Onwurah to BIS, Clive Lewis to defence – will be absolute car crash, totally useless, which means the backbenches and select committees [will] have to do the actual work of opposition and scrutiny to make sure Britain become a one-party state.

"You may end up with a de facto 'shadow shadow cabinet' on the backbenches just by dint of the fact Corbyn's shadow cabinet are so utterly useless."

However a different staffer said a lot would rely on whether Tom Watson wins the deputy leadership contest: "The deputy leader would have some influence. I think Tom would have a big hand in how it would work. Tom's going to have some say in the shadow cabinet and he's renowned for doing backroom deals. I don't think people have taken that into account when thinking about what a [Corbyn] shadow cabinet looks like."

In general, the mood among Labour's shadow cabinet staff, who mainly hold views to the right of Corbyn, is one of resigned acceptance to his impending victory and deep concern about his electability, despite his obvious popularity among the party membership.

"Why hang around for a few years in hope of government?" said one aide, weighing up their options. "What would be left to inherit?"

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at

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