Jeremy Corbyn's leadership unprofessional and shoddy, says Heidi Alexander

Former shadow health secretary sets out her reasons for resigning from Labour’s frontbench in article for the Guardian

Heidi Alexander has described Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour as shoddy and unprofessional, but insisted she was not part of a coup or a plot when she resigned from the party’s’ frontbench in June.

With ballot papers in the hard-fought leadership contest expected to arrive within days, the testimony of Alexander, who was the first to resign from the shadow cabinet following the EU referendum, underlined the deep divide within the party.

The Lewisham MP stepped down on 26 June after Hilary Benn told Corbyn he had lost confidence in his leadership and was sacked. She is now one of the co-chairs of Owen Smith’s campaign for the Labour leadership.

In an article for the Guardian, she wrote: “I loved being the shadow health secretary but I hated being part of the shadow cabinet … I hated being part of something so inept, so unprofessional, so shoddy.”

Alexander, who has been an MP since 2010, had never spoken from the despatch box when she was appointed to the health post in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, and says the job made her feel excited and liberated.

Over her 10 months in the role, however, she became increasingly disillusioned. She said Corbyn would regularly defer to his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, in meetings, and sometimes read from a typed script. “I saw first-hand 10 months of dysfunctional opposition and a Labour party let down the people it is meant to represent,” she writes.

Alexander’s resignation was followed by scores of others, leading to a vote of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership, which was passed with overwhelming support from the parliamentary Labour party. The ensuing crisis eventually led Smith to challenge Corbyn for the leadership.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.
Heidi Alexander said John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would frequently undermine her. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Alexander writes: “I wasn’t part of a plot. I wasn’t part of a coup. I had tried hard to make it work. A leader who had been willing to engage, support, take difficult decisions and able to build a team might have made it work. But we didn’t have one, and in Jeremy Corbyn, as much as it pains me to say it, we never will.”

Alexander said McDonnell, a longstanding Corbyn ally, repeatedly undermined her. “It wasn’t good enough for the leader to routinely defer to his shadow chancellor when confronted with a difficult decision – a shadow chancellor who on three separate occasions undermined my efforts to agree collective positions on health matters.”

Her aides pointed to McDonnell’s decision to appear on the picket line with striking junior doctors, despite agreement at shadow cabinet that no one would do so; his creation of an “advisory group” of health activists convened without Alexander’s knowledge; and his tweeting support for an “NHS reinstatement bill” sponsored by Caroline Lucas when the party position was to abstain.

A source close to McDonnell said his attendance at the picket line had been discussed with Alexander’s team in advance. “It wasn’t about undermining her, it was about keeping her honest,” he said.

The source said the advisory group, which included campaigners against NHS privatisation, had been created because some had concerns about Alexander’s stance. He said McDonnell had spoken in her support. “What John wanted to do was make her part of the team and help her out.”

He said it should not have been surprising that McDonnell would back a bill to undo NHS reforms.

Corbyn is thought to have a clear lead in the leadership contest over Smith, who emerged as the only challenger after the former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle dropped out.

The result is due to be announced on 24 September as MPs gather in Liverpool for the party’s annual conference. Sources close to Corbyn said the leader was focusing on how he could bring the party together once the contest is over.

A long-running dispute between the GMB union and the only company bidding to provide security for the conference means there is still a risk it may not ahead. A statement from the GMB on Friday said Labour’s national executive committee had agreed not to use Showsec unless it agrees to recognise unions.

The party turned to Showsec after deciding to boycott G4S over its treatment of workers. Tim Roache, GMB’s general secretary, said: “It’s welcome that Labour’s NEC has seen sense and is backing our demand that Showsec recognise GMB … Labour conference remains in jeopardy as things stand, and without a standard trade union recognition agreement signed, sealed and delivered by Showsec.”


Heather Stewart Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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