Never let it be said that Steve Reed OBE isn’t a… hmm… let’s call him a pragmatic politician.
Although many others might regard him as a political chameleon or, worse, a hypocrite.
Just a few weeks after declaring that Jeremy Corbyn would make Labour “unelectable again”, Reed has eagerly accepted a job working for the new party leader.
The Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North [delete as appropriate] ended five days of not so fevered speculation this morning when he declared: “I’m delighted to accept Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to be Labour’s shadow minister for local government. Now we take the fight to the Tories.”
This is the same Steve Reed who just a few weeks ago was abusing Labour Party members who supported Corbyn, accusing them of being “detached from reality” and part of a “lunatic” fringe.
All this Labour member was seeking was to get a local MP to ensure that Corbyn was on the leadership ballot. Shortly after this exchange on Twitter, Reed blocked his correspondent – who just happens to be a senior volunteer in a Croydon constituency Labour Party. Because Reed is so absolutely committed to proper discussion of policy…
Reed is the vice-chairman of the Lord Sainsbury-funded Blairite party-within-a-party Progress group. He campaigned for Liz Kendall and Baroness Jowell in the Labour leadership and London Mayoral selections. So that worked well, then.
It was Reed’s staff and supporters whose objections dissuaded Thornton Heath trades union official Glen Hart from re-joining the Labour Party, and which managed to see comedian Mark Steel blocked from signing up as a £3 Labour supporter. Hart and Steel had both looked to return to Labour because of their support for Corbyn.
In a poll of Inside Croydon readers, 90 per cent said Steel should be allowed to sign-up as a Labour supporter.
One Reed supporter, a Progress councillor in neighbouring Lambeth, even started a petition to try to stop the leadership election when it appeared that Corbyn would be a runaway victor.
And Reed himself attracted the anger of many Labour figures, including Croydon councillors and General Election candidates, when he used social media to post a link to a Conservative-supporting columnist in the Torygraph who decried the inclusion of left-winger Corbyn in the leadership race under a headline that said “the lunatic wing of the Labour Party is still calling the shots”.
Reed recommended the article by writing: “It took years for Labour and councils like Lambeth to recover from the toxic legacy of the hard left in the 1980s. Now 36 of my colleagues have given them a platform to try and make Labour unelectable again.”
Reed has no problems with “electability”, since from the moment he was selected by local Labour members to be the candidate for Croydon North, he inherited from his predecessor, the late and lamented Malcolm Wicks, a 21,000 majority. Or what ordinary, hard-working folk might describe as “a cosy job for life”.
But the election of Corbyn as Labour leader did threaten Reed’s political career trajectory, which thus far, since the former Lambeth Council leader was elected to Parliament in November 2012, had been steady.
Reed was originally appointed as shadow minister for local government in May this year, in the aftermath of Labour’s General Election defeat. That he has survived in Corbyn’s re-shuffle may owe more to The Sun and the Torygraph than Reed is ever likely to admit.
It is astonishing that it has taken until Day 6 of the Corbyn leadership for the super, soaraway Currant Bun to get round to digging up Labour’s new leader’s one-time fling with Diane Abbott. The Murdoch press and the majority of the mainstream media has been throwing pretty much everything else they could find at Corbyn in his first few days in office.
So it just might be that Corbyn and his small team has decided, at this stage, that they could do without any further disquiet, and a spell of continuity among Labour’s second-tier shadow appointments is called for.
Basically, Reed isn’t important enough for Corbyn to replace. Yet.
How Reed adapts to being inside the Corbyn tent, pissing out, remains to be seen. But with his own Constituency Labour Party having nominated Corbyn for the leadership, it is a move which ought to ensure he won’t have the ordeal of facing re-selection, for the time being at least.
One senior figure in the Croydon Labour Party said, “Some might say Jeremy Corbyn has been exceptionally generous re-appointing Reed to this post, particularly after the negative comments Reed made during the leadership election.”
What the appointment does mean, though, is that while Reed remains in the shadow team, his great political rival, Chuka Umunna, is out. Umunna pipped Reed to selection to stand as Streatham’s MP in 2010, something many believe Reed has never forgiven.
And while Reed twiddled his thumbs at Brixton Town Hall waiting for his main chance on the national stage, Umunna emerged as a rising star under Ed Miliband as shadow business spokesman. Then he ran for the Labour leadership, then he didn’t. And then he made himself unavailable to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet on a point of political principle.
Reed, it would seem, isn’t bothered by such niceties.
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