The Labour party has been left without a shadow minister for disabled people, after Debbie Abrahams was promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary following the turmoil that caused most of the shadow cabinet to resign.
The party was unable yesterday (Wednesday) to say when or if a new shadow minister for disabled people would be appointed, but there will be concerns that there will now not be enough MPs who are loyal to party leader Jeremy Corbyn to fill all of the remaining shadow posts.
Abrahams (pictured) was appointed to shadow the work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb after the resignation of Owen Smith, one of about 40 shadow ministers and shadow cabinet ministers who have quit in protest at Corbyn’s leadership.
There have also been concerns that Corbyn has been forced to scrap the post he created only last year of a shadow cabinet minister for mental health, because of the resignation of Luciana Berger and the need to appoint a slimmed-down shadow cabinet.
Only 40 Labour MPs voted for Corbyn in a no-confidence motion last week, compared with 172 who voted against him.
But the Labour leader and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell have earned fierce loyalty from disabled anti-cuts activists for their consistent opposition to Tory-led austerity and commitment to disability rights issues since 2010, and particularly for opposing cuts to disability benefits and services that many of their fellow Labour MPs supported.
Abrahams did not respond yesterday to a request for a comment from Disability News Service, although a spokesman for Corbyn said: “Front bench ministers will be announced soon. Sorry I can’t be more specific at this time.”
There was initial confusion over a possible replacement for Abrahams after Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, congratulated Labour MP Margaret Greenwood “on stepping up to be my shadow today” after she had responded for the party in a parliamentary debate on disability employment.
But a spokesman for Greenwood, who was previously owen Smith’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), said she had stood in for Abrahams only for the debate and was now set to be Abrahams’ PPS.
Caroline Richardson, a Labour party member and a disabled campaigner with the Spartacus online network, said she believed the promotion of Abrahams would be good for disabled people.
She said: “Whilst I recognise the current situation within the Labour parliamentary party has resulted in some ministerial posts not currently being filled, I am confident that the promotion of Debbie Abrahams to the post of shadow secretary of state for work and pensions is exceptionally beneficial to disabled people.
“Debbie brings with her to the post the knowledge base of her previous post, including the people who worked with her in that specialism.”
She said that the disabled people who had built up contacts with Abrahams would continue to provide the evidence she needed to respond to the government’s planned green paper on employment support for disabled people.
She said: “I think that activists and members of organisations involved in protecting disability rights and scrutinising legislation will be pivotal in both providing evidence to Debbie and her team, and to creating compelling evidence-based reports for addressing the green paper.”
And she said she thought that a short-term vacancy for the post of shadow minister for disabled people would not harm disabled people’s interests.
She said: “Parliament will very shortly enter recess and then conference season, hence there will be significantly less pressure on ministers on a face-to-face basis in the chamber.
“Our challenge as disabled people is to provide continuity of support and evidence to the parties in opposition, to continue to scrutinise legislation and to prepare to respond to the green paper, whilst battling our own private and personal wars.”