Diane Abbott claims Corbyn has cut down ‘bloated’ shadow cabinet after axing equalities role

Diane Abbott has claimed that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken action to cut down his “bloated” shadow cabinet – days after he axed the dedicated equalities and mental health briefs.

Mr Corbyn has been struggling to fill his front bench after a wave of resignations from Labour MPs who are calling on him to stand down.

Last week the Labour leader appointed a new cut-down shadow cabinet last week in a bid to restore control over the party.

Among the changes, he scrapped the dedicated shadow cabinet role for Women and Equalities issues – combining the brief with Education and handing it to new MP Angela Rayner. He also did not appoint a new Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

It was not the only place where efficiencies are evident – English MP David Anderson is both the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, while the Shadow Leader of the Commons is also Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

But new shadow health secretary Diane Abbott, a key ally of Corbyn, claimed that he has acted to cut down the “bloated” shadow cabinet.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, she insisted: “You will know that since the Blair years we’ve had a bloated cabinet and bloated shadow cabinet, for reasons of party management.

“The truth is, it ill behoves people who have stomped off carrying their bat and ball to say ‘hold on, there aren’t enough people on the front bench’.

“It was their intention to drive Jeremy out.”

She added:”[BBC political editor] Laura was just saying that the Labour Party in Parliament’s not functioning, that’s simply not true.

“Last week Andy Burnham led a very important debate on the status of EU nationals living here. I led a debate on the totally phony promise that £350 million that goes to the EU will go to the NHS.

“We are functioning. It may be the media’s giving more publicity to the rows, but we are functioning.”

Ms Abbott also responded to Angela Eagle’s planned challenge against Mr Corbyn, branding her “the Empire Strikes Back candidate”.

Introducing a dedicated shadow cabinet-level equalities minister had been an achievement of former leader Ed Miliband, with Gloria De Piero and Kate Green having filled the brief.

But the party will now apparently mirror the Conservatives on equalities issues – with the equalities brief is handed out as a secondary role to a high-ranking minister.

Lord Cashman, who resigned as Labour’s LGBT Rights envoy last month, called on Mr Corbyn to restore the dedicates equalities role and appoint a new LGBT envoy.

He told PinkNews previously: “Now is not the time to diminish the priority of equalities.

“It’s precisely time to restate them as part of our values within the EU, and a Britain that might be out of the EU. Time is of the essence.”