Jeremy Corbyn is facing a fresh bout of dissent from his own MPs over the appointment of an outspoken leftwing journalist to a key post.
Seumas Milne, a former comment editor and foreign correspondent at the Guardian, is now in control of Mr Corbyn’s strategy and communications, making him the Alastair Campbell of the opposition party.
Mr Milne is well known for his strong views on foreign policy, in particular his opposition to western interventionism. He recently wrote: “Western claims to be the champions of human rights and humanitarian intervention are treated with derision across much of the world.
His views on the Labour party are no less trenchant: in May Mr Milne wrote a piece for the Guardian headlined: “The return of the Blairites is the last thing Labour needs”.
Lord Mandelson, co-founder of New Labour, told the BBC that the appointment was proof of Mr Corbyn’s lack of professionalism. The peer said Mr Milne was an old friend but added: “He’s completely unsuited to such a job, he has little connection with mainstream politics or mainstream media.”
Other Labour MPs expressed concern that Mr Milne’s strongly held views and firm belief that Ed Miliband lost the general election in May because he was not radical enough would divide the party.
Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, said: “In this appointment, Corbyn has stuck two fingers up at his detractors. “You think I’m going to compromise my views just to be popular? Just to be elected? Well, look who I’ve just hired!”
Mr Milne once wrote that the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris would not have occurred if the West had not tried to “bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world.” In 2004 he wrote that killings of “occupation troops” in Iraq “pale next to the toll inflicted by the (US/UK) occupiers”.
His appointment — following that of hardline socialist John McDonnell as shadow chancellor — suggests that Mr Corbyn has embarked on an uncompromising mission to refashion Labour in his own image.
Mr Milne, a Winchester-educated Balliol graduate, recently told the Kremlin’s Russia Today TV channel that the current Labour top team was only a “stabilisation shadow cabinet”: radical MPs from the new 2015 intake would soon take many of their places.
Although Mr Corbyn is not expected to attend next Monday’s weekly meeting of the parliamentary party in Westminster, Labour MPs are already lining up to ask difficult questions over Mr Milne’s responsibilities, salary and views.
Many MPs are worried about Labour’s failure to present a united front against the government in recent weeks. Lord Warner, a health minister under Tony Blair, quit the party this week saying it did not have a “hope in hell” of forming a government under Mr Corbyn’s leadership. Other Labour Lords are considering their positions.
After weeks of friction between the new leader’s inner circle and most of the party’s 232 MPs, most of whom are well to the right of Mr Corbyn, the appointment of Mr Milne has prompted fresh anger.
“That appointment is the final proof that this is not a serious political project,” said one former Labour cabinet minister. “It shows Jeremy has zero interest in building a new broad left, instead he is just building a bigger vanguard.”
Mr Milne was not available for comment.
Last Monday, MPs raised queries about another controversial appointment: that of policy adviser Andrew Fisher. Mr Fisher had tweeted on the morning after the general election celebrating the fact that Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, had lost his seat.
MPs also criticised Mr Fisher for urging voters not to back the Labour candidate in Croydon South, Emily Benn, in May and instead support the Class War candidate Jon Bigger.
Further alarming party moderates, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister who was fired this year after a row with EU creditors, said on Friday that he was “in conversation with the Labour party”.
Get alerts on Labour Party UK when a new story is published