After it was revealed that Barry Gardiner described the Good Friday Agreement as “a shibboleth” and one of Keir Starmer’s Brexit tests as “bollocks”, some are asking how the shadow international trade secretary held on to his job. Here are three reasons why:
1. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t need to create a distraction right now to deflect attention from negative media coverage about his own leadership. Owen Smith was sacked just as the story about the Labour leader’s earlier support for an antisemitic mural in the East End of London was taking off. Some in the leader’s office thought that Smith’s sacking might perform the fabled role of a “dead cat” – if you slam a dead cat on a table in the middle of a difficult meeting people quickly forget the issue in hand and instead talk of the expired feline. They were wrong, of course, but they still tried. Corbyn had no such need for a ‘dead cat’ distraction this week.
2. Gardiner leans in towards Corbyn’s view of Europe. It is hardly a secret that Jeremy Corbyn is somewhat less than enthusiastic about Europe – before the June 2016 referendum he never offered a pro-European view and during the campaign itself said he’d give the EU only “7 out of 10” for performance. He was of mixed utility to the Remain side of the argument. Corbyn might not like Gardiner’s dismissal of the Good Friday Agreement or his choice of language when describing Keir Starmer’s Brexit tests, but he does share the fundamental view that Britain is leaving the EU and the remain side need to get over it.
3. Most importantly, Corbyn hates the mainstream media and above all he detests the idea that he should make decisions based on media pressure. In part this is the reason why he has got himself in such a mess over antisemitism: he found it difficult to agree with media reports there was a problem and even more difficult to take any action when finally forced to concede on the basic point. So he was never going to sack Gardiner just because the media expected him to.
In the end the Corbyn machine thinks that what matters is Corbyn himself. The Shadow Cabinet are a political necessity but not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Hence is Corbyn happy to live with Gardiner even though he’s machine-gunned his foot off.