Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, has been appointed Shadow Defence Secretary following a wave of more than 30 resignations from Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow cabinet. This comes amidst calls for the leader to resign office. Lewis will be the fourth Shadow Defence Secretary in two years.
Many have resigned in protest at what they view to be Corbyn’s lacklustre performance during the campaign to remain a part of the European Union. Despite the Labour party officially campaigning for Remain, many traditional Labour voters chose to leave the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn shocked his MPs today by accusing them of ‘factional’ infighting as he faced mass resignations. As the dozens of MPs who, until yesterday, made up the shadow cabinet and front bench shook their heads, he launched a defiant attack on them for trying to remove him from office. He has vowed he will not resign under any circumstances.
Lewis, elected in May 2015, has consistently supported Corbyn and was one of the 36 Labour MPs to nominate him for last year’s leadership election. Many commentators have suggested that this support and Lewis’ previous military experience in Afghanistan led Corbyn to offer Lewis the role, in the wake of cross-party criticism of the Labour leader’s referendum campaign.
The apparent disorganisation and apathy on Corbyn’s part in relation to the Remain campaign have led some to doubt his ability to head a united Labour Party, and consequently lead the party through the expected autumn General Election.
In a statement published to Facebook on Sunday night, Lewis criticised those calling for Corbyn to stand down, insinuating that there are currently larger concerns in British politics: “I am disappointed that, in this time of political crisis, the opportunity has been taken by a small minority of my colleagues to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s role as leader of the Labour Party. This is no time for disunity and in-fighting. With the Tory Party imploding in front of us, having been shamefully divided throughout the EU campaign, now more than ever we should be coming together and showing we’re above such divisive and petty politics.
I urge colleagues in the PLP not to support this ill-timed motion to oust Jeremy as our leader, but rather to unite behind him and allow us to become the effective opposition party our voters deserve at this time when so much is at stake. We need to be reaching out to the millions of Labour voters who voted us out of the EU, listen to them and work together to find the solutions we need. If we don’t, others with more insidious politics will, and that would bode an unimaginable and dangerous shift to the right. We can not allow that to happen.”
The Norwich South MP also tweeted to say that he was “pleased to see” a petition calling on Labour MPs to support Corbyn had over 150,000 signatures and encouraged followers to sign.
However, the Labour Party crisis took a comic turn as Lewis was not present at the House of Commons on Monday, owing to attending the Glastonbury Festival at the weekend, which led to some mocking from the front benches.
John Woodcock, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) defence committee wrote, “I should therefore speak from the despatch box in the event that the new shadow defence secretary you have appointed today does not make it back from Glastonbury in time to hold the government to account.”
During defence questions, Michael Fallon said of his absence “I think he’s AWOL on his first parade. We welcome his service in uniform,” in a possible reference to Lewis’ three-month Afghanistan tour in 2009.