Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, has accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of "incompetence", saying that his ineffectiveness meant a campaign she was planning against library closures "went to waste".
In an article for The New Statesman, Onwurah described how Corbyn had given her the role of shadow minister for culture in September last year, and then in a January reshuffle gave "half the job" to Thangam Debbonaire MP, appointing her shadow culture minister, but without telling either Onwurah or Debbonaire.
Onwurah said that this, coupled with Corbyn's "refusal" to speak to the two, created an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty. "No one knew what he wanted us to do, no one was clear on what we should be doing", she said. “Jeremy made it impossible for two of the very few BME women MPs to do their jobs properly, undermining both us and Labour’s role as the voice of opposition to the government."
Onwurah said she had been working on a campaign against library closures but could not launch it as no-one knew whether libraries were part of her remit.
"I had undertaken a hugely labour-intensive Freedom of Information request on library opening hours, correlating the results to demonstrate how they had fallen exponentially under the Tories," Onwurah said. "It was impossible to launch a Labour opposition campaign to protect libraries when no one knew if they were part of my brief or not. All that work went to waste.”
A spokesperson for Corbyn told The Guardian: “Chi Onwurah’s comments relate to a discussion about the delineation of shadow cabinet roles last January, as is not uncommon in both shadow cabinets and cabinets. Chi was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to be shadow minister for culture and the digital economy last September.
“When Thangam Debbonaire was appointed as a dedicated shadow minister for the arts in January, there was a negotiation about the division of responsibilities with Chi and Thangam, but at no point was anyone sacked. We regret that Chi feels she was singled out, but this was clearly not the case.”
Corbyn has backed a national libraries demonstration which is due to take place on the 5th November. He pledged that a Labour government would ‘in-source’ public and local council services and increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country.
His challenger for Labour leadership, Owen Smith, also voiced his support for the library service, pledging to “work with councils to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead and meet local needs”, if he is appointed Labour leader, in a letter to librarian Leon Bolton.