The imminently expected reshuffle of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet looks set to go ahead without Labour MPs being granted a vote on the make-up of the leader’s top team.
The party’s ruling National Executive Committee has agreed to put off a decision on shadow cabinet elections until an “awayday” on November 22, with a consultation process to follow before reforms are approved at a special conference.
MPs voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to restore elections, in order to give the parliamentary party more control over the choice of shadow ministers.
And the decision to kick the issue into the long grass is likely to make it more difficult for Mr Corbyn to persuade critics who quit his frontbench team in June to return.
Mr Corbyn’s re-election with an increased majority on Saturday has heightened expectations of a reshuffle, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell did not rule out the possibility of frontbench changes ahead of the return of Parliament next month.
Asked on ITV1’s Peston on Sunday whether he expected the shadow cabinet be the same when MPs return to Westminster, he said: “I think so. But there might be others that say, ‘I want to do a particular role’. If they want to come on board before that, that’s fine.”
The leader moved to calm MPs’ anxiety over the threat of deselection, insisting that the “vast majority” will have no problems as local parties choose candidates for new and altered constituencies created by the redrawing of boundaries.
But he stopped short of saying there will be no deselections, and his close ally Diane Abbott said the leadership would not intervene in the decisions of constituency parties - some of which have threatened to remove Corbyn critics, like Angela Eagle in Wallasey.
Following the defeat of challenger Owen Smith’s attempt to unseat Mr Corbyn, MPs from Labour’s centrist wing have urged the leader to rule out deselections and restore shadow cabinet elections as an olive branch to bring the party back together.
Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that a failure to unite after the leadership contest could kill off Labour forever, while prominent moderate Chuka Umunna said the party cannot win a general election unless it stays a “broad church”.
Mr Khan told the Sunday Times: “The idea of deselecting MPs is wrong. The review of boundaries should not be an excuse for Conservatives or others to reduce the number of Labour MPs.”
And he warned: “We know from history - the Gang of Four in the 1980s - that when the Labour Party splits, we are out of power for a generation. Now it is far more serious than that. If the Labour Party splits, it could be the end of the Labour Party.”
Speaking to BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on the first day of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Corbyn insisted the party was “quite united” on policy, and said it was time to “move on” from the bruising exchanges of the leadership contest.
Asked whether he wanted sitting MPs to be reinstated in the upcoming redrawing of boundaries, or if he would prefer a set of candidates with views closer to his own, Mr Corbyn said: “Listen, I wish them well.
“The relationship between an MP and their constituency is a complex one, not necessary a policy tick-box exercise. It’s also the relationships, the community, the effectiveness of representation.
“Let’s have a democratic discussion and, I think, the vast majority of MPs will have no problem whatsoever.”
He said his message to constituency parties contemplating deselection of MPs they regard as disloyal was: “Concentrate on policies, concentrate on campaigning, concentrate on getting out there and what we’ve got to get across as a message.”
On the issue of shadow cabinet elections, Mr McDonnell told Sky News’s Murnaghan: “There’s a whole series of democratic reforms that people are debating now, one of which is shadow cabinet elections.
“The NEC has now said they will look at all those issues, but they will look at them in the round.
“What they are looking for is an awayday to look at all those issues, then consulting the party and then we will probably have a rules conference if we need to change those positions.”
Mr Corbyn confirmed he had asked Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee to review the party’s democratic structures to give a greater role to members and trade unionists in developing policy.
And he said that conference - which lost most of its decision-making powers under Tony Blair - should “move very much more to the centre of concluding our policy debates”.
The re-elected leader has spent the last week speaking to key Labour MPs in an apparent effort to lure some back into his frontbench team, where a number of posts remain unfilled after the mass resignation of dozens of shadow ministers in June.
“I’m reaching out to all our MPs, having lots of discussions with them,” said Mr Corbyn.
While acknowledging there were “some differences of policy opinion”, he insisted there was “a good deal of unanimity” on issues like selective education and austerity.
Asked whether he would welcome Hilary Benn - who he sacked as shadow foreign secretary - back into the shadow cabinet, Mr Corbyn said only: “He wants to become the chair of the select committee on Brexit.”
And when interviewer Andrew Marr said he could read out a list of scathing comments made about the leader by some of his MPs, he joked: “You have only got half an hour on the programme.”
Mr Umunna dismissed reports that he was being lined up to challenge Mr Corbyn before the next general election.
“This issue of the leadership is settled, we don’t need to be talking about this any more,” the Streatham MP told the Andrew Marr Show.
Mr Umunna warned that Labour can only win an election as a “broad church”, and cautioned against any move to punish those who have rebelled against Mr Corbyn.
“We’ve got to move on from this notion of crushing people who disagree with us,” he said.
“The strength of the Labour Party is that it is a broad church. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system ... you can only win if you are a broad church political party, and for the Labour Party you have to take in everyone from the left to the centre-left.”