This is a cross-post from A Very Public Sociologist
“Ed Miliband backs down and gives Len McCluskey his dream team!!!” screams Conservative Central Office as if people outside the Tories’ increasingly fevered (and depleted) ranks gives a monkey’s. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth Ed’s shadcab reshuffle is being dissected by friend and foe alike. As with any leader, the appointment of ministers and shadow ministers is never just a matter of ability – it’s about the internal politics of party management and how the party looks to the electorate. With these factors in mind, these choices are smart politics. Bring on the Kremlinology.
Firstly, I was heartened to see Andy Burnham retained his place at the health brief. Like many others in the party, I feel Andy has grown into a formidable attack dog and principled champion of the NHS since his leadership bid three years ago. While as wonky as the leader himself, Andy’s working class background, policy agenda and obvious passion for the job makes him horribly effective. Which is why the Tories fear him, smear him, and are now apologising to him. Those whose ears catch the idle chatter from the more indiscreet members of Ed’s office have let drop that the leader was reportedly “furious” with Andy for raising not-so-oblique criticisms of the ‘hush now’ approach to party policy, and he could face the chop. And yet he’s still there. On ‘ability to do the job’ there’s a big tick. On internal politics, a good many party activists would have been disappointed had he gone – with a difficult 18 months ahead the party needs every pair of hands it can muster. And out there in realworldswingland; passion, competency and a rough plan to implement a national care service to complement the NHS goes down very well indeed. Losing Andy would have been a very serious error of judgement,
I know some readers will be wanting me to say a few things about my ex-boss, Tristram Hunt, who’s been promoted to shadow education minister. There’s very little to add to what I’ve already said on Twitter. Tristram will be very effective in pinning down Gove and putting forward Labour’s alternative. He also cares deeply about improving schools and ensuring that education produces well-rounded people, not drones for assembly lines with the nonsensical capacity to recite England’s kings and queens. And unlike his predecessor, who I believe never really *got* his brief, Tristram has his own ideas about what needs to be done. Internally, it’s difficult for the likes of Dan Hodges to maintain there’s been a cull of the Blairites when Tristram is one of the directors of Progress. There’s also the small matters of promotions for Emma Reynolds and Gloria De Piero, and Wee Dougie keeping shadow foreign secretary and getting joint campaign chair too. Then again it’s never the done thing to let facts get in the way of spun narratives.
But is there some truth to the cull hypothesis? A smidgen. It is under-performing Blairites who’ve had the push, not under-performers normally identified as Ed’s people. Was Stephen Twigg effective as shadow education? As nice a bloke he is, I’m afraid not. His barely-concealed support for free schools as Labour policy was at odds with the common view among the PLP and the wider party. He had to go. Same with Liam Byrne. Actually, weirdly, strangely, I’ve warmed to Liam of late. He’s very capable and is an extremely hard-working MP. He has to be – his constituency caseload is reputed to be the heaviest in Parliament. But I think he’s too much of the old ‘new’ school. It’s not that he personally believes in being beastly to people who subsist on social security, but is prepared to be so in the name of triangulation. Unfortunately for him, as Labour positions itself as a real social democratic alternative to the Tories, ‘conviction politics’ are again on trend. Triangulation is subordinate now to politics, not the other way round. Lastly, Jim Murphy who is perhaps the one bruiser the Blairites had left has gone to international development. Jim has been credited with improving Labour’s appeal to the armed forces, be they veterans or serving personnel. Whatever one thinks of those efforts, he has nevertheless made real inroads. Jim’s problem, however, is not that he is incompetent – rather it was his position over Syria that did for him. It’s hardly news that Jim was of a hawkish bent when the matter was still being mulled over by the leadership a month or so ago. His mistake however was to publicly emote and allude to his displeasure with the Labour-led opposition victory against missile strikes. While you could say Andy Burnham was as equally out of order for trying to bounce the leadership on policy, pledges around care are one thing in politics, questions of war and peace are quite another. It meant that for Jim the writing was on the wall.
Yet what of Jack Dromey? I thought he was very effective in housing. Like Andy and now Tristram, he genuinely relished that role. Though the thinking seems to be he’s on for some senior role with the shadow home office team.
So here we have Labour’s ‘Team 2015’. The new line up can be viewed in its entirety here. Not the communist combat squad haunting the limited imaginations of the Tory party faithful, but a collective that can put forward Labour’s alternative with passion, rigour and clarity.