JOHN McDONNELL and Diane Abbott were among the shadow ministers at Saturday’s Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference to debate the way forward in the fightback against the Tory government.
That ought to have made them prime candidates for interview on yesterday’s foremost TV political debate programmes, The Sunday Politics Show on BBC and its ITV rival Peston on Sunday.
But there was no room for Labour frontbenchers. The BBC plumped for sacked former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn while ITV picked ex-shadow business secretary Angela Eagle.
Eagle complained that this year’s challenge to party leader by Owen Smith had been “mainly about personalities … when I think we needed to have a leadership election about policy.”
If it was indeed about personalities, that’s because last year’s contest, which set Corbyn’s socialist politics against the austerity-lite of his three former New Labour minister opponents, saw a Corbyn landslide.
This year’s ritual saw different tactics. After Eagle dropped out of the contest she triggered, she backed Smith who claimed to represent the same politics as Corbyn while projecting a more formidable leadership better capable of victory.
This ploy produced the same result but more so, as Corbyn increased his majority.
Corbyn offered an olive branch to the former frontbenchers who resigned in unison to drive him out and many have returned to take up their duties.
Eagle, however, has moved on to the next phase of Operation Undermine Corbyn, suggesting that senior back-bench figures have a responsibility to produce a new vision if the party is to be elected again.
In her view, these clever people wouldn’t have time to do so if bogged down with mundane things such as holding the Tories to account in Parliament.
Benn, who is doubtless one of these clever people, has also disdained a return to front-bench duties, preferring to take up chairmanship of the Commons Exiting the European Union committee.
It affords him a prominent position from which to project his pro-EU obsessions while feeling no compulsion to support the Labour leadership in Parliament.
A similar career move was chosen earlier by former frontbencher Yvette Cooper. She now chairs the Commons home affairs committee, having defeated, among others, fellow New Labour bigwig Chuka Umunna who is often designated a future Labour leader and holds a semi-permanent residency in TV newsrooms.
Despite assertions of wanting to see an end to inner-party divisions, these MPs who used to be somebody have effectively taken their bat and ball home.
Their role is as a kind of shadow shadow cabinet that offers alternatives to Corbyn’s existing front bench, criticising and, in reality, undermining the real opposition to the Tories.
Their behaviour confirms that they haven’t come to terms with being defeated two years running by Corbyn but, more importantly, that they cannot accept that the politics they represent is no longer acceptable to party members.
They could have attended Saturday’s conference and debated the need to develop an industrial policy, reform the banking system, tackle the energy cartel, build council houses, reverse privatisation and end the public-sector pay freeze — all policies that could have averted general election defeat if followed when they were ministers.
Their failure to do so indicates that they have not learned from their political errors and are stuck in old ways that would prove disastrous to working people.