Labour’s Shadow Cabinet: Ready for Assembly?
We now have the 19 names who will be in the Shadow Cabinet. Ed Miliband secured Nick Brown’s constructive dismissal during the Labour Party Conference, Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Bob Ainsworth were always standing down and David Miliband took his ball home (had he nationalised it from Ed first?) following his defeat in the Leadership election.
And there have been a few developments: firstly, Yvette Cooper has come top – which begs the question if the right half of the couple stood in the Leadership Election, and John Healey, the Shadow Housing Minister came second (that’s a promotion waiting to happen). Ed Balls came third and Andy Burnham fourth, in an apparent replay of the Leadership contest.
Angela Eagle found herself catapulted to fifth place, ahead of Alan Johnson. Douglas Alexander came a creditable (and surprising) seventh, tied with Jim Murphy. Tessa Jowell came ninth, and in a result certain to infuriate Gordon Brown, Caroline Flint came tenth (Shadow Secretary of State for Window Dressing, perhaps?).
John Denham took 11th place; Hilary Benn and Ed Miliband’s campaign manager Sadiq Khan tied for twelfth. Mary Creagh came 14th, with Ann McKechin 15th (Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland?) Maria Eagle – did the Labour Party implement a rule that there has to be a pair of siblings on the frontbench or something? – took 16th place, with Meg Hillier, Ivan Lewis and Liam “No money left” Byrne taking the remaining spots.
There are a number of omissions there: most notably Peter Hain, but also Shaun Woodward (let’s be honest, he was never going to survive this process) and Ben Bradshaw. Also, Pat McFadden, who took over as a kind-of Acting Shadow Business Secretary following Labour’s defeat and Lord Mandelson’s return to the underworld has a rather short tenure around the Shadow Cabinet table.
So what to make of this? Firstly, can we draw any conclusions from the fact that the quota of six women has been exceeded? I don’t know that we can: after all, MPs had to vote for six women, so it’s not clear who got in on merit and who got a helping hand. Well, scratch that, it’s patently obvious that Yvette Cooper did well as herself. She probably didn’t need a quota, but there you go.
But there’s something else. In 1997, six MPs representing Scottish seats were in the Cabinet, and one Welsh MP, falling to five and one in 2001, then four and one in 2005. It now has only three Scottish MPs in it and no Welsh MPs, meaning that like the Government Front Bench, the Shadow Welsh Secretary will not represent a Welsh seat. Perversely, as the number of English MPs in the PLP has fallen, the proportion of English front bench members has gone up. It may well be correcting a bias, but it seems counter-intuitive.
What this means is that Labour – who came first in Scotland and Wales but not in England – now have the most English frontbench they’ve had in years (only one more non-English MP than the Coalition cabinet which has a far lower percentage of non-English MPs overall) and this does matter. Firstly, the ‘English’ nature of the Tory party before the election (three Welsh MPs and one Scottish MP: fewer non-English MPs in the entire Parliamentary party than in the Labour Cabinet alone) was something constantly pointed to, as a means of calling the party’s credibility into question (and this was broadly successful in Scotland, less so in Wales). Now, Labour have only a handful of Celtic voices (and of course this has an impact: it’s human nature for people to gravitate to those they can relate to, and just something as basic as a different accent can put a barrier in people’s minds – however unfair or misplaced the sentiment may be, it conveys a sense of other-ness, of different experiences, of not being able to empathise with or understand our point of view. Ann McKechin has a fighting chance of at least passing the basic credibility test, but the next Shadow Welsh Secretary will not.
Moreover, there’s another idea than comes in. Labour’s three Scottish Shadow Cabinet members are almost precisely in line with their proportion of Scottish MPs within the PLP. But Scots punch above their arithmetical weight in the Coalition, as Scottish MPs used to in the Labour Government. What happened? And are none of the 26 Welsh Labour MPs fit to be frontbenchers? What does that say about the quality of Welsh Labour Parliamentarians?
Of course, this story is only just beginning: Ed Miliband has to assign portfolios to the 19 winners. And we don’t yet have any idea how things will turn out. But already there are questions, and while Ed Miliband has been lumbered with the PLP’s choices, he’s the one who has to answer those questions when they are raised.