Leader of Britain's divided Labour Party fires party rebels

AP News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2016 1:20 PM
Leader of Britain's divided Labour Party fires party rebels

LONDON (AP) — The role of an opposition should be to challenge the government, but Britain's Labour Party has begun the new year at war with itself.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn rearranged his top team Wednesday in a bid to assert his authority over restive lawmakers — only for several Labour legislators to resign their leadership positions in protest.

The veteran left-winger was the surprise winner of Labour's leadership election last year, strongly supported by the party's membership but opposed by most Labour lawmakers.

He has clashed with centrist Labour legislators over issues including his opposition to nuclear weapons and to British airstrikes on IS targets in Syria.

Early Wednesday, Corbyn moved defense spokeswoman Maria Eagle, who opposed him on nuclear weapons, to another post, and fired two other members of his top team who had criticized him.

Three other members of Labour's shadow government — railway spokesman Jonathan Reynolds, junior foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Doughty and armed forces spokesman Kevan Jones — later quit, citing differences with Corbyn and the treatment of their colleagues.

Jones said Corbyn was running the party in a "very top-down" way.

"If you agree with the leader, that's fine, if you don't then there is no entering into discussions," he told the BBC.

Corbyn's changes — dubbed a "revenge reshuffle" in the press — were announced after two days of closed-door meetings, and were more limited than many had anticipated.

Corbyn did not move foreign policy spokesman Hilary Benn, who publicly opposed his leader during a House of Commons debate on Syria airstrikes last month. While Corbyn opposed the strikes as "reckless," Benn argued Britain should play its part in defeating Islamic State group "fascists."

More resignations could follow as Labour struggles to remain united. Corbyn has promised a new style of politics to re-energize a party that has lost two consecutive elections to prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, most recently in May.

But many Labour lawmakers see his leadership style as ineffectual, his policies as out of touch with voters' views and his commitment to party reform as hollow.

One of those who was fired in the reshuffle, former culture spokesman Michael Dugher, changed his Twitter biography to read "sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for too much straight talking, honest politics" — an ironic reworking of Corbyn's own campaign slogan.