Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North [delete to taste], has been keeping an unusually low profile for a few weeks. It appears, though, not to be out of some sense of shame for his part in the failed coup against Jeremy Corbyn, but more for the preservation of his own political career.
Yesterday, 13 days into the latest reshuffle of Corbyn’s parliamentary “team”, Corbyn named Reed as a shadow spokesman for civil society.
So Labour now has a spokesman for “civil society” who thinks nothing of using his position as an MP to write to the Met’s Borough Commander and have the police sent round to the home of a constituent who has had the temerity to ask their MP challenging questions. Doesn’t seem very civil.
When Reed resigned from the shadow cabinet in a huff four months ago, he claimed that Labour faced “electoral annihilation” under Corbyn’s leadership.
It is not known what has persuaded Reed to have his change of mind in the intervening few weeks.
That resignation letter in June from Reed also contained an important untruth. Reed stated that he had taken his decision, “after consulting my local constituency party”. In fact, at a meeting of the Croydon North CLP the week before, Reed had refused to answer questions from members about his support, or opposition, to Corbyn as party leader. The meeting deteriorated as Tony Newman, the Croydon Council leader, shouted at Labour members for daring to question the MP’s position.
Later efforts by CLP officials supportive of Reed to deny Croydon North Labour members an opportunity to discuss the leadership were thwarted, and a nomination meeting saw the members back Corbyn as leader. Reed failed to attend that meeting.
Since the failed coup, some within the local Labour Party have suggested that Reed has been attempting to distance himself from Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party, funded by millionaire Lord Sainsbury, and which was seen to be active in the campaign to oust Corbyn. Until the summer, Progress listed Reed among its vice-chairs.
But in between the suspensions of local party officials, threats and other recriminations, Reed has been telling anyone that will listen that he has nothing to do with Progress.
And while it is true that, during the attempted coup, Progress wiped their website page of the names and pictures of their lengthy list of right wingers who were vice-chairs, they did not manage to wipe the interweb history of those pages… some of which can be seen here:
Indeed, Reed has long been regarded as a bit of a poster star for Progress:
There is little doubt that Reed’s new job is a demotion from his previous brief as Labour’s shadow on local government. That job has gone to Jim McMahon, another former local government leader, recently elected as MP in Oldham – the first by-election won by Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.
There is a view that Reed’s appointment may have been made at the request of Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader (and shadow culture spokesman), another who failed to cover himself in glory during the leadership campaign and has been sulking ever since.
As Labour’s spokesman for civil society, Reed will be shadowing government junior minister Rob Wilson, a parliamentary under secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. According to the government, the civil society brief includes, “the Big Society agenda…” well that worked well, plus, “National Citizen Service and youth policy; social action; social enterprise and social investment”.
Which to some might appear to be the Tory policy of converting professionally delivered public services into volunteer-provided, under-funded and unfunded schemes, often administered by charities. Given Reed’s background at Lambeth, where council estates are being flogged off to developers and libraries “transformed” into bookish gyms or run by volunteers, it seems to be a good fit.
Yesterday, Reed gushed: “The challenges the voluntary sector faces are huge. Charities and community organisations are struggling to support growing numbers of people who need their help at a time when funding has been cut. Uncertainty caused by the Tories’ chaotic response to Brexit means charity leaders fear more cuts are on the way.
“I know from my time in local government that community groups, co-ops and mutuals play a huge role in civic life, but they could do even more if given the chance with more open decision-making and a fairer share of resources.
“I’m looking forward to working with civil society to challenge a government that doesn’t really trust, understand or value the community and voluntary sector.”
One other interesting Labour appointment announced yesterday is that of Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter as the shadow spokesman on housing and London – putting him head-to-head against Croydon Central’s Tory MP Gavin Barwell.
And they say that there are no easy jobs in parliament…
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