Life beyond electoral death for Labour’s Special Advisers

It has been 14 years since we’ve had such a contest, but Labour still elects its Shadow Cabinet.  This is a quaint practice which used to be a web of corruption.  Ray Powell, the former MP for Ogmore and accommodation whip, was the spider at its centre.  He collected blank ballot papers in return for larger offices and other whiply favours.

Regional blocks were a big thing in those days.  As were voting bands of drinking buddies and over-representation by those more courtly and solicitous than they were talented.

The modern Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not go back to those ways.  Where it will go is not clear.

At its first meeting last Wednesday – called at the height of the post-election bargaining frenzy – the PLP decided that there would be no Shadow Cabinet elections till after the new leader had been chosen.

The way these strange ballots work is that the PLP elects the Shadow Cabinet, with the number of votes cast for each candidate being published.  This creates a ranking order, with stars at the top.  It humiliates those who miss by miles.  This is a reasonably effective disincentive to frivolous candidature.  The leader (who, along with the deputy-leader and the chief whip, is elected separately) then allocates the portfolios.  He is not under any formal constraint when he does so, but the unwritten principle is that the better jobs go to those who got the most votes.

Shadow Cabinet members, of either stripe, receive what is called Short money from the public purse to finance the extra staff their extra duties require.  (It is named after Labour’s former deputy-leader, Ted Short, who campaigned for it – and who still sits in the House of Lords, aged 97).

Labour is now the Opposition.  The Short money kicks in immediately.  So who gets it this spring and summer, with no Shadow Cabinet elections for months?  The answer, apparently, is that members – including attenders – of the last Cabinet will keep one of their two Special Advisers until the new Shadow Cabinet is elected. 

This includes those (of which there are a few: Jack Straw, Alistair Darling,  Tessa Jowell, to name but three) who don’t plan to stand for the Shadow Cabinet.  And all of those who are running for the leadership.  Which will doubtless come in handy.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Life beyond electoral death for Labour’s Special Advisers”

  1. Spartak St Albans says:

    Yes, indeed, how “quaint” those Shadow Cabinet “elections” used to be.

    The highlight for me, without exception, was trying to pick the exact day in August when Bryan Gould would swerve very sharply leftwards in time to pick up votes for the ballot.

    He became extremely good at timing it right – too early, and he risked losing the votes of people who actually agreed with him; too late and the Campaign Group wouldn’t have time to add him to their roster of “vote for grudgingly” also-rans.

    No such fun trying to pick the exact day he would revert to type – it was always the day after Shadow Cabinet elections.

    Any bets on which candidates will be practising the Gouldian Summer Swerve this year?

Leave a Reply