Jeremy Corbyn moved to try to quell growing disquiet in Labour ranks at his shadow cabinet reshuffle by announcing the return of 10 people to the top team who previously quit in protest at his leadership in June.
In a move clearly intended to overshadow the resignations of two whips after the controversial sacking of chief whip Rosie Winterton, Mr Corbyn noted the number of people returning to the fold in his shake-up of Labour’s front bench.
However, the total of returnees is still just a quarter of the 63 MPs in shadow posts who turned their backs on him in the mass walkout after the shock Brexit referendum vote, though there are more posts still to fill.
Mr Corbyn said: “I am pleased to announce the appointment of 21 MPs to our front bench, 14 of whom are women and four of whom are from the black and minority ethnic community.
“I welcome back the 10 who have returned, and look forward to working with the eight talented MPs joining the front bench for the first time.”
The 10 MPs returning to the Corbyn fold are: Jack Dromey, Pat Glass, Sharon Hodgson, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Kevin Brennan, Louise Haigh, Jenny Chapman, Matthew Pennycook, Nick Thomas-Symonds and Emma Lewell-Buck.
The announcement came after sources close to Mr Corbyn hit back at resigning whip Conor McGinn by branding the St Helens North MP “disloyal” and insisting he jumped before he was pushed.
A Labour source said: “No-one will lose any sleep over Conor McGinn resigning after the disloyalty he showed in organising resignations during the attempted coup.”
Mr McGinn insisted that new chief whip Nick Brown offered him the opportunity to remain in his post, as he thanked Ms Winterton for being “an outstanding chief whip”.
Fellow resigning whip, Halifax MP Holly Lynch, said she wanted to spend more time in her constituency, where she has a slender majority of 428.
The removal of Ms Winterton provoked an angry backlash, with chairman of the parliamentary party John Cryer writing to MPs to protest that he and the chief whip had been kept in the dark about the reshuffle despite being engaged in talks with the leadership on putting some of the posts in the shadow cabinet up for election.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it was “difficult to believe” Mr Corbyn did not inform Mr Cryer.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme: “John Cryer is one of the best-connected people in the party, and the idea that anything took place without his knowledge, I find difficult to believe.”
The return of the clutch of MPs who had previously quit in protest at the leadership gives Mr Corbyn the chance to steady the ship after a tumultuous few days since he began reshaping his top team.
The appointments follow reports that leading anti-Corbyn figures are preparing to organise their own “shadow shadow cabinet” in direct competition with the official front bench, which will produce its own policy initiatives.
The senior moderate in Mr Corbyn’s top team expressed a relaxed attitude to the emergence of such a body.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said there were “unresolved” issues in the parliamentary party after Mr Corbyn’s reshuffle, a shake-up which saw Labour plunged back into infighting.
Asked about the “shadow shadow cabinet” on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Sir Keir said: “There are unresolved issues in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
“We do need to resolve them as soon as possible. We need to be an outward-looking, confident party rather than an inward, divided party, so we need to address that.
“I respect colleagues who want to make their voice heard from different places, whether it’s the back bench, the mid-bench, through select committees, or on the front bench.”
Sir Keir sidestepped answering when asked if the Labour leader would make a good prime minister.
The Brexit chief also appeared at odds with Mr Corbyn as he called for a reduction in immigration numbers after the Labour leader refused to bow to pressure from MPs to do the same at last month’s party conference.
The resignations came in the wake of controversial choice for shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, comparing the Labour Party to a “war zone”.