A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

The Labour Shadow Cabinet

In Events on October 10, 2010 at 12:04 am

By Polarii for The Daily Soapbox

Ed Miliband has announced his frontbench team, which, his rhetoric suggests, he would like to take into government as soon as possible. There are several reasons why this cabinet would be strained in actual government, yet several reasons why this cabinet is politically sound for Ed Miliband in the immediate present; perhaps he would be better either with a cabinet reshuffle upon entering office, or hope the ballot falls kindly in two years time. I shall deal with the shadow cabinet members in the order that they are listed on Wikipedia, which is in rough order of seniority:

Harriet Harman: Shadow Deputy PM and Secretary for Development. Saddled with this somewhat abrasive feminist as deputy leader, Ed probably owes her a favour or two for not standing in the leadership election. Her performance as acting leader was not incredibly strong however, and so they are only small favours. Hence DfID, a ministry that wins very few votes, but still allows her to make noises about women. Labour’s record on DfID, however, is not administratively strong (eg CDC/Actis), though they did put money towards it. In short, a ministry that minimises the effects of some of Harman’s more interesting political ideas and keeps her (for the most part) out of the public eye, but allows her to pursue some of the notions close to her heart.

Alan Johnson: Shadow Chancellor. A bold decision. With both Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls placing ahead of him in the poll, it seems a somewhat dangerous choice. Johnson is associated with the trades unions, which can again leave little doubt as to where Ed thinks his money is. Johnson is not, like Balls, a lifetime economist, but he has shown a dogged determination in office. Given that Johnson will be too far-gone next time around to present a serious leadership threat, it is safe to leave him in the high-profile of chancellor, though the increasing influence of the unions will be a cause for concern for the average voter. He does have the advantage of being somewhat more telegenic than Osborne, but at least Osborne actually has a degree (though it is indeed not in economics, as was noted ad nauseam before the election).

Yvette Cooper: Shadow Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women. The traditional role of Harman (women) has passed on to this new woman (aka Mrs Balls), who shadows Theresa May, who also serves a joint role (she will face Mr Balls as Home Secretary, however). Ed has been shrewd here. Cooper topped the poll, and thus could expect a senior role. Her husband couldn’t muster enough charisma to be elected leader, a quality she does not lack. Consequently, giving her the (non-)role of Shadow Foreign Secretary is clever; people will feel she has received due acknowledgement, while she spends much of her time doing little and even more outside Westminster, wherein she might drum up support for a future leadership campaign. However, this will mean that both Mr and Mrs Balls hold high-profile cabinet roles, and still have to raise children. With one parent spending much of the time abroad, something (child-rearing or ministries) have to give. This might make this current arrangement untenable.

Ed Balls: Home Secretary. Ed Miliband could hardly have placed Balls as chancellor, given their diverging views on cuts during the leadership contest, nor could he not, with Ed Balls receiving many votes in the poll and economic policy being his particular forte. Resentment will bubble, particularly as the less well-qualified Johnson has received the role, and the difficult strains that Ed Balls will face because of Yvette’s role as Foreign Secretary. Ed cannot count on the David Miliband supporters however, to back a coup unless Ed makes at least two serious mistakes, so Ed Miliband will probably get away with it. However, there will almost certainly be a high-profile casualty or high-power supporter of an opponent sometime in the future. It may have been better to come to some sort of accommodation on the chancellor role and place Yvette as Home Secretary, which suits both of these two better. This Johnson/Balls gamble is the big one of this cabinet.

Rosie Winterton: Opposition Cheif Whip. After Ed forced the Brown-era whip from office, this protegé of Harriet Harman was elected unopposed. While chief whips do not often fly high very quickly, they can find some interesting dirt, which might have influence on any leadership campaigns Harman might wish to support, or run herself.

Sadiq Khan: Shadow Lord Chancellor and Secretary for Justice. Ed Miliband’s campaign manager could have expected a nice role, though I thought that this was much more likely to fall to Alan Johnson. Sadiq is known for being quite set in his views, which could jar with the judges of the legal system.

Jim Murphy: Shadow Defence. Co-chair of David’s election campaign, he will be relatively gratified to get this job, perhaps a conciliatory move towards the 49.63% of the party who really didn’t want Ed. Decidedly on the right of the party, described by Ken Livingstone in an EDM as ‘intolerant and dictatorial’, a supporter of Israel, and a university drop-out, he scored well in the poll, and fits the brief for defence secretary quite well. One of the few appointments that marries ministerial considerations and politics.

John Denham: Shadow Business, Innovation and Skills. A chemist, Denham has served in several ‘skills’ rolls before, though he will find it hard to define himself against Vince Cable, who is busy sidling left (in my mind, for a potential stab at leadership of the Liberal party, though this by far from a consensus among the cognoscenti). At least he has some knowledge of the department he has got to shadow, though his support for tuition fees during Blair may possibly jar with Miliband’s opposition to them.

Douglas Alexander: Shadow Work and Pensions. The co-ordinator of the general election where Labour’s vote did not completely collapse has managed a little up on the greasy pole. Alexander is vocal for his support for the poor, whether for the very poor in Africa or the poor in the UK, and should make a good candidate for this role, though he comfortably lacks the depth of knowledge of Iain Duncan-Smith.

John Healy: Shadow Health. Second in the poll, having only held minor ministerial role, catapulted into a high-profile role. A Balls supporter, placed in role with no cuts to oppose. Politically savvy choice, though it leaves the Tories to do pretty much what they want with the NHS within their manifesto pledges.

Andy Burnham: Shadow Education. Somewhat gaffe-prone, which should make for some amusing exchanges between himself and Michael Gove. Solidly Blairite, placed in a ministry where few will really object to a raft of well-considered Tory policy, on which Ed Miliband has not yet come to a conclusion. This will lead to some lack of purpose in the Labour party’s response, and a glittering lack of attention for Burnham, who also co-ordinates campaign strategy, which he has never really had to do – he has always sat for a safe Labour seat.

Caroline Flint: Shadow Communities and Local Government. Famous for flashing her briefs in public, then decrying the window-dressing status of women in Brown’s cabinet, it is somewhat surprising she did not receive the women’s ministry. The former Europe minister continues on her treadmill of minor ministries, supported in her post by the fact she’s a woman, and Labour have to manage at least 6 in their cabinets.

Meg Hillier: Shadow Energy and Climate Change. This former identity card minister, who forgot her own identity card, prompts the question all Westminster is asking: who is she? Perhaps this is why Labour wanted ID cards – to identify nonentities of ministers.

Maria Eagle: Shadow Transport. The less popular but more intelligent of the Eagle twins, will find this transport brief interesting. However, no-one notices the benefits of sound transport policy for at least a decade, so don’t expect to see her for about that long. Until then, she might find an interesting role at another ministry.

Mary Creagh: Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This parliamentary bruiser has been given the ministry no-one in Labour really wants as there are very few Labour votes to find; all the rural stuff goes Tory or Liberal unfailingly. At least her competence will be somewhat tested, as reconciliation between farmers and animal rights campaigners, free traders against fair-traders and conservationists against foresters looks even less likely than for the past 100 years.

Andrea Eagle: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. This popular and potentially high-flying Eagle has been tasked with shadowing Danny Alexander, who is gaily waltzing around Westminster with cuts. She will have to play second-fiddle to Johnson, so don’t expect much exposure since she is shadowing; not actually in office – Ed is clipping her wings.

Shaun Wooward: Shadow Northern Ireland. This quietly competent man was drafted into the cabinet, having failed to acquire enough votes. Labour’s record is good in Northern Ireland, and Woodward, if he continues in the vein he had while in government, will do nothing to destroy that.

Anne McKechin: Shadow Scotland. Very Scottish – as her rather difficult name suggests – will not be able to attain much glory at the Scottish Office, as the Scottish Labour party, which will ascend to fill the current role of the SNP after the elections in May, will take all the credit for anything good that happens.

Peter Hain: Shadow Wales. Again, drafted in to fill the lack of Welsh MPs in the Labour cabinet, he will have good fun shadowing the (not Welsh) Welsh Secretary. However, his best days are behind him, and he cannot expect any more offices beyond this – which is good, because he has already spent 7 years in it.

Ivan Lewis: Shadow Culture, Media and Sport. Best described as unreliable, this MP has had allegations of harassment, u-turns from big-money lobbying and sedition. It will be very difficult to be Shadow to the dazzling Jeremy Hunt, so he is not one to watch.

Baroness Royall: Opposition Lords Leader. This Neil Kinnock lover has been elected beyond the power of Ed Miliband. Her time will likely be short due to impending Lords reform, but hard-left politics will make it more difficult to persuade cross-benchers and coalition rebels to vote with her against some of the government’s legislation that could easily be overturned in the Lords.

Tessa Jowell: Shadow Olympics. This arch-blairite, of whom I suspect even Ed Miliband wishes he were rid, has been given one of her favourite ministries. It’s a good choice for Ed too. Most of the decisions have been taken, and much of the catalogue rests with the Mayor of London. She can’t go around spewing forth Blairite ideas anywhere else if she has this job. If she’s going to embarrass anyone, it will be the government, not the Labour party.

Liam Byrne: Shadow Cabinet Office. Despite his lamentable ‘no money’ note, Byrne’s ability has seen him scrape enough votes (though only just) to get into the cabinet. Ed Miliband will do well to turn his formidable intelligence to policy formation, while not allowing him to become familiar enough with any department to identify another serious Labour failing, and proclaiming it to the world.

Lord Bassam: Opposition Lords Chief Whip. This directly elected post sees the founder of the Squatters Association in office. It will be interesting to see how long he – a political appointee – and the cronies he marshalls (formerly Tony’s) can squat in the Lords after reform comes.

Baroness Scotland: Shadow Attorney General. Beautiful, clever, a brilliant lawyer, she has all the qualifications for a minister and none for an MP. Dearly beloved by all at the Attorney General’s Office, Ed Miliband doesn’t have anyone intelligent enough to replace her, nor to spar with the clever-cloggs pedant Dominic Grieve.

Tony Lloyd: Labour Chairman. The incumbent, and strongly associated with the unions, if he plays his game right, he can control Ed Miliband. A few well placed ‘errs’ in cabinet meetings will tell Ed that the bulk of his support in the party (by which I mean the unions) will not approve of that policy, and so Ed will stop it. He has the left-wing-ness to make it happen as well. He could potentially rise up the ranks quickly if Ed Miliband has to promote union candidates to retain their grace and favour.

In short, Ed Miliband has been dealt a bad hand by these elections. It seems stupid to me that the party to not trust its leader to choose his team – or to lead, as all the other parties call it. Anyway, the Blairites – for which read supporters of David – with the exception of Johnson, who once described himself as a Marxist, seem to have been effectively marginalised. The Balls clan remains prominent, with enough potential supporters should the unions decide that they don’t actually like Ed Miliband. This cabinet, in more subjective terms, seems to lack the gravitas of previous shadow cabinet; I certainly can’t see some of these people retaining their offices for long in government. But that’s maybe because there are loads of new names, which is another weakness that may become a strength. However, if Ed does try to keep Labour in the centre, he risks a Balls/unions takeover, which accounts for the Lords positions and most of the top table. Also, three key ministries that need reform – DWP, MoD, Business and Skills, are left to safe but cautious people, who may not be the best foil for dynamic counterparts, IDS, Liam Fox and Vince Cable. But the fact that I’m calling IDS dynamic is a sign of how times have changed. Perhaps there’s method to this cabinet – but I think that it leaves Ed necessarily pandering to the left of his party, in order that Balls and the unions should be kept happy.

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