Friday, October 08, 2010

Ed's Loose Change

New Labour Leader (oops - he won't like me saying that!) Ed Miliband has today announced his first Shadow Cabinet and I have to say that I share the view of many that a lot of his appointing are, frankly, bizarre.

I know that he has his hands tied by having to have Shadow Cabinet elections rather than just appointing who he likes - although apparently he can also appoint some places too (more on that later) - but his allocation of jobs goes from the boring to the bonkers (copyright, Labour MPs).

A lot has been focused on the role of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor, but to me the most fascinating role is that given to Harriet Harman. Hattie is a Shadow Cabinet certainty given her directly elected role of Deputy Leader. Under Mr Brown, Harman also doubled (or quadrupled) as Commons Leader, Labour Chairmwoman and Minister for Equalities. No doubt she'll be grateful to be down to just the 2 extra jobs ... Deputy Leader and Shadow International Development Secretary. Odd, I think, but maybe explainable. You see, Harriet's standing has rocketed after her stint as Acting Leader. Share prices in HH Ltd. have gone through the roof. The reception and plaudits she won at conference show us that. Like Margaret Beckett in1994, Harman's political reputation has been enhanced no end. In fact to the point where I know a lot of Labour members who wished she had gone for the top job herself. So given her massive popularity and status within the party, why dump her off on the relatively low status cabinet job of Shadow DID? Most people expected at least Shadow Justice (taken by Red Ed's main man Sadiq Khan). I am not saying that International Development isn't important - it is, as shown by the fact it has a ring fenced budget - but that the cabinet role doesn't involve the great partisanship and media role that Harman would thrive on. Ed has showed her into the background, maybe fearful of the power that a resurgent Harman has in the party. I'm afraid this role, to me, makes Ed look weak. He should have exploited Harman rather than demolishing her.

So onto the top jobs. Johnson for Shadow Chancellor is a sound move in one way - he is a loyal, union man and will serve Ed to the end with undying-bunker-mentality. He is also an extremely effective Commons performer (one of Mrs Little's favourite MPs actually) and will give the Chancellor a real run for his money (no pun intended). But Johnson is the compromise candidate; a man who will show the imprint of the last leader to sit on him. Ed can mould Alan in his own image. And so, because he doesn't have the guts to choose between Ed Balls and Mrs Ed Balls, Alan will do for now. Somebody on the Beeb suggested he was a caretaker appointment - I think so too. I saw Johnson doing an interview on Sky and was, frankly, terrible. He avoided all questions about policy, or even opinions, and sidestepped the issued of public sector pensions and strike action. But I guess he won't find his backbone until Ed tells him where it is. And that leaves Balls and Cooper like fish out of water in their new roles. Economists both, and both yearing for the top economic portfolio, Yvette Cooper now has to shadow the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ed Balls is opposite Home Secretary Theresa May. I would suggest that Mr Hague will sleep more soundly than Mrs May, but neither Labour spokespeople have the experience or knowledge - yet - to lay a glove on the government.

The LibDems in the coalition may too be breathing a sign of relief that they will not have to face Labour's big guns - maybe a sign on the big thaw between the two parties. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will face charming former Treasury Minister Angela Eagle. I am no fan of Mr Alexander but he dwarfs her and won't face much of a Commons challenge. John Denham, for Labour, will be opposite Vince Cable. Mr Denham, who clung on by his fingernails in his Southampton constituency, is a good and clever man but Vince is there to be wound up a treat by Labour and Denham isn't the man who can do this. Chris Huhne now faces Meg Millier - who? - a fairly anonymous former Minister who doesn't seem to have much going for her. Ann McKechin is now Shadow Scottish Secretary and given her deep rooted socialist links, it'll give LibDem Michael Moore plenty of scope for attack. That leaves Sadiq Khan opposite Nick Clegg. What a let down - Jack Straw used sheer gravitas and intellect to regularly crush the hapless Clegg at Commons Questions and I would suggest that the DPM will relieved to have some of the political heat taken off. Mr Khan is a man rewarded for his loyalty and way, way out of his depth. The LibDems in government look like they have survived the worst of Labour's "new generation".

That leaves Andy Burnham - my pick for Labour Leader - at Shadow Education. Although I think Mr Burnham will be a tougher opponent that many Tories think, the fact is that Michael Gove has intellectual rigour on his side and Burnham's button-down-the-hatches view of education (the it's all fine just chuck some money at it approach) won't work. John Healey is a well respected MP but he'll have to put in some work to deal with Andrew Lansley who has had the Health portfolio in and out of government for six years now and is considered a formidable expert on the NHS now.

Labour's election guru Douglas Alexander is Shadow DWP opposite Iain Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith has the edge on thinking and until Labour formulate their own ideas for welfare reform, his policy of oppose-oppose-oppose (I am guessing that's what it'll be) won't be enough.

Caroline Flint, who definitely isn't window dressing, is back at Shadow Communities and I cannot wait to see her come up against Secretary Pickles, public chum number one! It is the one Commons clash that I am really looking forward to!

I think shuffling Hilary Benn off to Shadow Commons Leader is a bit premature as that role involves lots of HoC work rather than letting Mr Benn loose on one of the big spending departments. I am glad Lima Byrne survived, shadowing Francis Maude, as a certain "note" may make regular reappearances in debate!

And then there is Peter Hain (Shadow Wales) and Shaun Woodward (Shadow NI) - the two men who now they didn't get into the Shadow Cabinet by rights. How can they go to work in the morning knowing they shouldn't be there? Mind you, I suppose Ed has to do that too!

All in all I don't sense a thread running through this; rather more like a collection of panic appointments. Very few of them backed Ed in the first place and for a new generation they look rather a lot like Brown's old generation. I am afraid not good enough, yet, and I would expect Ed to be re-shuffling again in about a year.

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