Margaret Beckett’s letter to the PLP on the future of the shadow cabinet


July 29 2010

Dear Colleagues

Further to my most recent letter I am writing to set out some proposals and choices on how our Shadow Cabinet is chosen from the autumn.

The working group established by the PLP has now met on a number of occasions, we have taken evidence from many members of the PLP, and we have received a number of written submissions, for which many thanks.

As I set out last week there are a number of issues we will continue to consider into the autumn but it is clear that we need to agree as a matter of urgency the basis on which the Shadow Cabinet will be chosen. This will be completed before parliament returns in October, as agreed at last Monday’s PLP meeting. As set out in my last letter, this is because the Spending Review will follow very quickly, i.e. 20 October.

This means we need to resolve how we choose a Shadow Cabinet in the ‘mini-session’ in September.

The Working Group is suggesting that we proceed on the following basis:

On Tuesday September 7 at 12 noon the PLP will meet for a special meeting to consider all of the proposals set out below. Our recommendation is that the meeting should discuss these matters in as much detail as colleagues wish. However, to decide detailed and complicated procedural issues by a show of hands does not seem sensible so we are recommending that there then be a ballot of the PLP in the PLP Office on Wednesday September 8 from 10am – 5pm to decide the procedures for getting the Shadow Cabinet in place.


We would first ask that the PLP consider supporting the following recommendation, which we have reached unanimously: We believe the PLP Standing Orders should be re-drafted to recognise the Parliamentary Committee as a body that sits irrespective of whether we are in Government or Opposition, as a specific vehicle for the views of backbenchers to be put to the leadership on a regular and sustained basis.

Consequently, we believe further that the rules must also now include separate and specific references to the ‘Shadow Cabinet’, who would no longer be assumed to carry out that role.


Beyond this, we have been struck by the wide array of opinions about the mechanism by which we choose a Shadow Cabinet, the number of colleagues on the Shadow Cabinet, the gender balance and the term of office.

 Rather than make one proposal we believe these are things it is better for the PLP as a whole to decide by ballot.

We have reduced the choices for electing a Shadow Cabinet down to five key areas:

1. Size of Shadow Cabinet

Under existing rules our Shadow Cabinet totals 26 members, whereas Cabinet contains 23. All the submissions we have received on the size of the Shadow Cabinet have indicated that this number should fall. It is however difficult to be precise about the exact size of the Shadow Cabinet as it will need to reflect, broadly, how the Government is constructed. This leads inevitably to some element of flexibility in the hands of the Leader and we believe our Standing Orders should reflect this.

2. Composition of Shadow Cabinet

We have received submissions which range from the Shadow Cabinet being wholly elected by the PLP to being wholly appointed by the Leader, as well as options that combine election and appointment. The options on the ballot paper reflect this range of opinion.

3. Gender profile of Shadow Cabinet

The options put to us regarding the gender balance of the Shadow Cabinet ranged from a 50-50 split to a number that reflects the current gender balance of the PLP (currently 31.5%).

We believe that, should the PLP agree a gender balance below 50%, then the Standing Orders should be amended to say that this is a minimum that applies equally to men and women.

4. Frequency of elections

The current Standing Orders require an annual election for the Shadow Cabinet. The point has been made to us that this may detract from the job of holding the Government to account if Shadow Cabinet members are concerned about having to stand for re-election. Again the choices on the ballot paper reflect the options that have been put to us.

5. Election of Chief Whip

The Chief Whip is currently appointed by the Leader from the elected section of the Shadow Cabinet. We could leave this as it is, but there is also a case for the Chief Whip to have their own explicit mandate from the PLP. Therefore one alternative put to us is that we hold a specific election to fill the post of Chief Whip.


We have agreed a draft ballot paper, attached, which sets out the range of options before us. We believe the best way to agree this is through a ballot under AV on Wednesday 8 September. Once that ballot has been counted we will have a final set of agreed changes. We believe this should then be put to a straight YES/NO ballot on Tuesday 14 September. As ever with these ballots, colleagues would be able to vote via Proxy.

The ballot paper attached is of course a draft – if you believe we have missed something that would represent an important choice for the PLP please contact Martin O’Donovan, PLP Secretary, so we can consider amending the document. In any case, this proposed way forward will need to be agreed by the PLP on Tuesday September 7th at 12noon.


There are two issues that, at present, do not figure on the ballot paper, although we accept they could be added if colleagues feel we need an explicit mandate in any of these areas. These are:

  • The mechanism by which we deliver the agreed proposal on gender balance. As set out in point 3, above, we propose that the gender balance apply equally to men and women. In practical terms, we believe the rule should be that in Shadow Cabinet elections PLP members must cast a minimum number of votes both for men and for women otherwise it will not be a valid vote.
  • We believe the Shadow Cabinet election should continue to be a first past the post election. Some colleagues have expressed concerns about this but we believe the alternative is incredibly complex, time consuming and not necessarily fairer.

I attach below a timeline which will hopefully make sense of how the weeks between early September and mid-October will work.

Finally, we were asked to provide a brief outline of the roles and responsibilities of the Shadow cabinet for the benefit of new members, which is also attached.

We look forward to seeing you in September.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP

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2 Responses to “Margaret Beckett’s letter to the PLP on the future of the shadow cabinet”

  1. antigone says:

    It is high time we accepted that the Labour leader in Parliament needs to have at least the same decision making capacity and authority about the selection of his team (I’m assuming DA won’t win) as the PM.

    On the hydrid option that would have some elected and some appointed members, what happens when he wants to reshuffle? Will he be able to fire the elected or only the appointed? If the PM has a wholesale restructuring are we to be saddled with a team set in aspic until the elections are due? If the leader selects a loser, representations can be made and the leader (aided or otherwise) may come round to the view that the initial decision should be rescinded. If the PLP elects a duffer are we stuck with him/her until the next elections?

    The shadow cabinet elections have always been an unedifying spectacle and a distraction. We’ve already wasted enough time on a protracted internal competition supposedly to demonstrate who will best oppose the government but, in the process, forfeiting coherent political opposition for a dutch auction for the support of sectional interests

    Once we finally elect a leader, whoever it is, we should trust him to lead and to decide on his team. That’s what leaders are for. By all means require the leader to include a quota of either sex. Elect the chief whip if you will.
    We’ve hobbled too many leaders by insisting that the PLP had some absurd right to manage the brakes and the indicators while someone else tried in vain to drive the car.

    Leaders are meant to lead. It’s time we got used to it.

  2. Interesting. Seems like they’re trying to turn the Parliamentary Committee into a Labour equivalent of the 1922 committee.

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