LONDON (Reuters) - Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sacked his EU policy chief for disloyalty and moved his pro-nuclear defence spokeswoman to another job in an attempt to tighten control over his rebellious parliamentary party.
The party’s main culture spokesman also went and the moves triggered some resignations among junior members of Corbyn’s team. But foreign policy chief Hilary Benn, whose position had initially appeared in doubt, stayed.
Political leaders in Britain often change their teams, but the emphasis on loyalty and adherence to Corbyn’s leftist policies underlined Labour’s fragility after it suffered an overwhelming election defeat last year to the Conservative Party.
Corbyn, a veteran left-wing activist, was elected party leader after the election by tapping into a desire for change among grass-roots party members.
But his four-month tenure has deepened divisions between him and several of Labour’s leading lawmakers, including with Benn, who publicly opposed Corbyn’s position last month by supporting the Conservative government’s Syrian bombing campaign.
Benn kept his job as Corbyn tried to forge unity with the party’s more moderate members, but three junior ministers in Labour’s ‘shadow cabinet’, which mirrors the government, resigned over their differences with the leader.
Labour said on Wednesday Emily Thornberry would replace Maria Eagle as defence spokeswoman.
Eagle was in favour of renewing Britain’s nuclear-armed Trident submarine programme, putting her at odds with Corbyn who has argued that the more than 100 billion-pound ($147 billion)price tag to replace the country’s deterrent could be better used. Thornberry has voted against renewing Trident.
Europe shadow secretary Pat McFadden said he had been sacked in part because of comments he made in parliament seemingly at odds with statements Corbyn had made on the causes of terrorism. Corbyn, he said, had taken them as a personal attack.
He will be replaced by Pat Glass, a pro-Europe former junior education spokeswoman.
Culture spokesman Michael Dugher said on Tuesday he had been sacked.
Corbyn had been under pressure by his allies to take control of Labour, which has struggled to challenge the ruling Conservatives.
Labour’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said Corbyn had questioned some leading lawmakers’ loyalty.
“There were issues where there has been undermining of his(Corbyn‘s) leadership and not accepting his mandate from the party members that he received in the election,” he told Sky News.
McDonnell said Corbyn was trying to “hold everyone together but be very clear about our direction of travel in terms of policy”.
But Jonathan Reynolds, the party’s rail spokesman, said in his resignation letter posted on Facebook: “I understand your need for a greater degree of discipline on the front bench and therefore believe it would be more appropriate to advocate these causes as a backbencher (a rank and file Labour lawmaker).”
Foreign Affairs spokesman Stephen Doughty, who quit on live TV, said he agreed with McFadden’s views on terrorism and national security and was going as a matter of conscience.
Armed Forces spokesman Kevan Jones said he disagreed with Corbyn on scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons and would make a more effective case for Labour to have “strong, credible defence and security policies” from the backbenches.
Additional reporting by Elizabeh Piper and Kate Holton, Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Jeremy Gaunt