Reshuffles are difficult. David Cameron hates the grief involved and avoids hiring and firing people whenever he can. Tony Blair struggled with them too, partly because his next door neighbour took such an interest. Changing a team is a difficult business in corporate life too. Large companies that attract much less attention than Prime Ministers put in enormous amount of planning into reshuffling senior members of their team, involving human resources and communications experts, and still it doesn’t always go to plan.
Moving around the members of a team is notoriously difficult, because people have their own ambitions, financial needs and perspectives about what is wrong in an organisation. In politics it is even more fraught with danger because occasionally a reshuffle can backfire to such an extent that the sacked or overlooked gang up on the boss and remove him or her, as Margaret Thatcher discovered in 1990. That being the case, perhaps Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should be cut some slack as he prepares his first shadow cabinet reshuffle.
But even by his low standards, he is making a hash of it already. He hasn’t even started reshuffling properly yet, but is still delivering a lesson in five easy parts on how NOT to reshuffle:
1) Don’t brief out the intention to reshuffle several weeks before you do it. Or even worse, as Team Corbyn did, engage in chatter that leaks out, giving those who are potentially for the chop time to respond, defend themselves and plot.
2) Don’t ruin the Christmas of those involved by introducing reshuffle fear and uncertainty at a time of year when they just want to forget what has been a very busy and difficult 2015. Spoiling Christmas will earn you the undying enmity of your colleagues and their families.
3) Don’t loftily refuse to discuss it as though you exist on a higher moral plane, when asked about it by the press as Corbyn was today. Don’t in your denial call it the reshuffle – as in “I’m not here to talk about the reshuffle” – thus confirming that it is happening.
4) Don’t signpost it too obviously, as Team Corbyn did today, making it clear that you will “consult” this afternoon. Consult who? You’re the leader as you keep reminding everyone. Get on with it. Also, don’t make it clear that you will be seeing each of the shadow cabinet members one on one in order. That way they can create havoc with your plans, turning down jobs and having their friends brief that it is absolute chaos in there. The risk is you set yourself up for (another) shambolic day of keystone cops chaos that only underlines, yet again, that you are the most poorly suited person to lead a political party since David Icke was chosen in the late 1980s as one of the four leaders – or four principal spokespersons – of the Green Party.
5) Don’t promote Diane Abbott.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that all is not going smoothly. How would Corbyn know? What’s he ever done or run?