Since the last General Election many of the heavy weights that dominated the New Labour political landscape have left the frontline of British politics. David Miliband, Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson, Jack Straw and of course Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown all stood down from Ministerial positions. This exodus followed the departure of people like John Prescott and John Reid who stood down when Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister in 2007. This provided a welcome opportunity for new blood to come through – but it also intensified a talent deficit that is apparent right across Westminster as Labour lost a great deal of its front bench talent and institutional memory. The sheer dominance of Blair and Brown over the last twenty years has stifled the development of top class politicians. As a result, Ed Miliband’s Cabinet over the last twelve months has had a mixed record and has been relatively lacklustre in holding the Conservative government to account.
As the Labour Party Conference draws to a close one of the main consequences of #lab11 will be a reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet. Labour has long had an arcane and frankly ridiculous rule stating that when out of government the Shadow Cabinet should be elected by a secret ballot of MPs. This will now change and Miliband will be free to select whomever he sees fit to join his front bench. Rising stars such as Rachel Reeves and Chucka Umunna are red hot favourites for promotion, whilst people like Meg Hillier (DECC) and Ann McKechin (Scotland) – both of whom have been seen to be largely ineffective – are facing the axe. John Healy will likely be moved to a less high profile position so it would not come as a shock to see either Andy Burnham (Education) or Caroline Flint (Communities) replace him at Health as both have been impressive. Rumours of Sadiq Khan (Justice) losing his job are abound – however, given that he led Miliband’s leadership election campaign it would be a big slap in the face. He may be moved but he will no doubt remain in the Shadow Cabinet. As an aside, it will be interesting to see whether Tom Watson or Chris Bryant will get a promotion following their excellent campaign against phone hacking.
Westminster’s talent deficit is not restricted to Labour; it exists across the political spectrum. The government benches are filled with inexperienced and weak politicians who are rushing through bad policies with little understanding of their consequences. George Osborne’s disastrous economic policies, Andrew Lansley’s attack on the NHS, Michael Gove’s shambolic shake up of the education system and Hague’s hit-and-miss foreign policy agenda are just a handful of examples. It is hardly surprising given that David Cameron has proven himself to be a second-rate Prime Minister who was unable to win a Parliamentary majority – even when faced with a unpopular Labour government in its thirteenth year in office.
In face of this, the changes to Labour’s constitution that were rubber-stamped at Conference this week are a long time coming. Ed Miliband’s task is to now take full advantage and put together a team that will add steel in the fight against a reckless Conservative government and begin to offer a genuine alternative government in waiting. If he cannot pull that off in the next twelve months then he will find out firsthand how it feels to be on the losing end of a reshuffle.
Top contenders for promotion to the Shadow Cabinet: Rachel Reeves, Chucka Umunna, Emma Reynolds, Chris Bryant and Tom Watson.
Top contenders for demotion: Meg Hillier, Mary Creagh, Ivan Lewis and Ann McKechin.