New Labour de­fence chief ‘awol’ on first day

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Ben Ri­ley-Smith and Laura Hughes

CLIVE LEWIS missed his first ap­pear­ance in the House of Com­mons as shadow de­fence sec­re­tary yes­ter­day be­cause he was at Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val.

The Left-wing, anti-Tri­dent Labour MP only learnt of his new po­si­tion in the morning when Jeremy Cor­byn is­sued a hastily con­ducted reshuf­fle af­ter a spate of shadow cabi­net min­is­ters handed in res­ig­na­tions.

Mr Lewis, a key Cor­byn ally and for­mer sol­dier, rushed back from Som­er­set af­ter hear­ing the an­nounce­ment but failed to make his first of­fi­cial ap­pear­ance in the Com­mons at 2.30pm.

In­stead Emily Thorn­berry, the for­mer shadow de­fence sec­re­tary who had just been given the for­eign brief, had to ques­tion min­is­ters about Gov­ern­ment busi­ness in his place.

The de­vel­op­ment was greeted with mock­ery by Michael Fallon, the De­fence Sec­re­tary, who joked that Mr Lewis had gone “awol on his first pa­rade”. The ab­sence led John Wood­cock, the pro-Tri­dent chair­man of Labour’s back­bench de­fence com­mit­tee and an arch-Cor­byn critic, to of­fer to take part in the de­bate in Mr Lewis’s place.

Mr Wood­cock wrote a let­ter to Mr Cor­byn say­ing party rules meant he should speak if Mr Lewis does “not make it back from Glas­ton­bury in time to hold the Gov­ern­ment to ac­count.” The blun­der echoes that of Tom Wat­son, the deputy Labour leader, who spent Satur­day night par­ty­ing at a Glas­ton­bury silent disco un­til 4am while his party im­ploded fol­low­ing the sack­ing of Hi­lary Benn, the shadow for­eign sec­re­tary.

The pro­mo­tion of Mr Lewis, MP for Nor­wich South, came as Mr Cor­byn pro­moted a string of sup­port­ive MPs elected lit­tle over a year ago in an at­tempt to plug the gaps caused by mass res­ig­na­tions.

New Labour MPs with min­i­mal par­lia­men­tary ex­pe­ri­ence will now be hold­ing the Gov­ern­ment to ac­count in the briefs of de­fence, en­vi­ron­ment, North­ern Ire­land and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

A Labour MP who un­der­mined the pro-EU cam­paign by call­ing a voter with im­mi­gra­tion con­cerns a “hor­ri­ble racist” was also given one of the most se­nior po­si­tions in the shadow cabi­net.

Pat Glass, who had to apol­o­gise for the blun­der while Europe min­is­ter, was ap­pointed Mr Cor­byn’s new shadow ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary in the reshuf­fle – her third role in 12 months.

The North West Durham MP later said: “The com­ments I made were in­ap­pro­pri­ate and I re­gret them. Con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion are en­tirely valid and it’s im­por­tant that politi­cians en­gage with them.”

The pro­mo­tion comes de­spite the Labour lead­er­ship’s fail­ure to un­der­stand sup­port­ers’ con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion be­ing named as a key rea­son why their vot­ers backed Brexit.

Key lead­er­ship po­si­tions were also filled with peo­ple who backed scrap­ping Tri­dent, with the shadow de­fence and for­eign sec­re­taries now against re­newal along­side the leader and shadow chan­cel­lor.

The move will help Mr Cor­byn change his party’s pol­icy on re­new­ing nu­clear weapons if he man­ages to re­main in post.

Clive Lewis, a key Cor­byn ally, failed to get back from Glas­ton­bury in time for the par­lia­men­tary de­bate at 2.30pm

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