New Labour defence chief ‘awol’ on first day
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