Shadow Attorney General resigns over Labour policies
Internal unrest over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has flared up again, with the resignation of a shadow cabinet minister and a warning that unions will fight any attempt to adopt a unilateralist policy on Trident.
Shadow attorney general Catherine McKinnell quit her frontbench role with a warning to Mr Corbyn that he was taking the party “down an increasingly negative path”.
And GMB leader Sir Paul Kenny said the Labour leader was facing a “shock” if he tried to ditch the renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, predicting unions would not “go quietly into the night” if members’ jobs were put at risk.
Ms McKinnell‘s resignation is the fourth from the Opposition leader’s frontbench team in the wake of a contentious reshuffle which saw his left-wing supporters replace more moderate MPs and Trident opponent Emily Thornberry appointed shadow defence secretary in place of pro-renewal Maria Eagle.
In her resignation letter, Ms McKinnell said being in the shadow cabinet had prevented her from speaking up on issues of importance to her constituents and that she felt she could serve them better as a backbencher.
The MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne North also said she was finding it more difficult to balance her professional and family commitments since the birth of her third child last year.
But she also expressed concerns about the “situation in which Labour now finds itself”.
“As somebody who came into politics with the sole motivation of making life better for my city, my region and, by extension, the country as a whole, I recognised that our electoral defeats in both 2010 and 2015 demanded a genuine and profound response from the Labour Party,” she wrote.
“I therefore shared your optimism for the ‘new kind of politics’ you spoke so compellingly about.
“However, as events have unfolded over recent weeks, my concern about the direction and internal conflict within the Labour party has only grown and I fear this is taking us down an increasingly negative path.
“I feel that I would like to channel my energy constructively, into making positive changes for my constituents.”
A former pupil of Sacred Heart Comprehensive School in Fenham, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Catholic Ms McKinnell has fought hard in parliament on issues such as corporate criminal liability, serious economic crime, prosecution rates, legal aid and access to justice.
She has been replaced as shadow attorney general by Hull East MP Karl Turner who is promoted from shadow solicitor general.
Responding to Ms McKinnell‘s departure, shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer told the BBC: “I don’t think it’s right that we should be talking about each other, I think we should be talking about the Conservatives.
“The reshuffle – like any reshuffle – inevitably becomes a flashpoint for difference. But we’ve got to move on from there. I don’t think anybody should be attacking each other.”
Any change to Labour’s position on Trident would have to be agreed by the party’s conference – as would any attempt to change the rules for making policy.
At the meeting of the PLP the party’s general secretary Iain McNicol confirmed the position. A senior party source said: “Iain made it clear how policy works, which is the NPF (National Policy Forum) and conference, and if there are any ideas to change policy, then obviously we take it to conference.”
Mr Corbyn has suggested changing the way policy is made to encourage more members to be active in the process, but Mr McNicol’s comments made clear that any new system could not be imposed unless the party’s annual conference – usually held in September – agreed.
Labour’s defence policy is being reviewed under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, but with the prospect of a Commons vote on Trident being held before Labour could reach a conference position on the nuclear deterrent, the source said: “Where there are votes, sometimes there are ways of the shadow cabinet discussing it.”