June shadow cabinet league table – and where the knife may fall in future

Murphy holds onto top spot but all eyes on the bottom as relegation comes closer

by Atul Hatwal

June saw Jim Murphy retain his position at the top of the league, albeit with a reduced lead as Douglas Alexander closed the gap between first and second. But the real interest lay in what was happening at the bottom following the news that the leadership intends to scrap shadow cabinet elections.

Assuming Ed Miliband’s writ runs, the prospect of relegation this year for shadow cabinet under-performers has suddenly become a real possibility.

It’s something that Uncut readers backed overwhelmingly last month with over 70% voting in favour of relegation before the next shadow cabinet elections. And it would certainly be peculiar for Miliband to fight for this change and then not use his new power.

At the moment, the media focus is on whether Miliband’s proposal will be passed, but if and when it is, then the reshuffle guessing game will begin in earnest.

This will involve reams of speculation on the comparative performances of the shadow cabinet and their expected fate. Most of it will be based on perception, in a commentary conducted without any quantitative evidence.

While the work-rate league is obviously an imperfect tool, it does provide some numbers to judge who has actually put the effort in on their brief. Looking at league metrics along side the underlying politics helps illuminate the potential shape of a first Miliband reshuffle.

Assuming the top half of the league are not in the sack race through a combination of effort, ability and stature, there are three factors at work in the bottom half which will drive the reshuffle: –  who out of the the new shadow cabinet women could be vulnerable, the men near the bottom who are protected and those current members who could be relegated without major political cost.

In terms of the women new to the top table, two are looking vulnerable – Meg Hillier and Anne Mckechin

Meg Hillier has been a fixture in the bottom three for months and her performance has been virtually comatose since she was appointed. She is yet to ask a written parliamentary question on her brief, has only issued seven press releases in nine months and in June scored a total of two points.

The question has to be asked whether someone else could make more of such a high profile brief?

And for all of Anne Mckechin’s solid Parliamentary effort, it’s notable that she is the only member of the shadow cabinet never to issue a press release in her capacity as a shadow secretary of state.

Success in opposition is principally about generating positive media coverage. The combination of her low media profile and the absence of a natural sideways move for the shadows of the devolved regions mean that she will be waiting nervously when the shuffle begins.

The overall number of women in the shadow cabinet can’t go down without a storm of party protest, not least from the deputy leader, so if both or either of Hillier and Mckechin are sacked then their replacements will need to be women.

Any move against these two will also paradoxically bolster the position of the two other female shadow cabinet newbies in the bottom half of the league, Caroline Flint and Mary Creagh.

If Miliband were to sack or demote Flint or Creagh as well, then that would likely be seen as a step too far. It would smack of not giving them a chance and treating them as tradable when male shadow cabinet members were being dealt with more indulgently

This would be particularly evident given there are a group of men in the lower half of the league, below both Flint and Creagh, who are insulated against the reshuffle.

This cloak of protection around four men sitting in the bottom six of the league is the second defining factor for the reshuffle.

Peter Hain has been busy digging Labour some new foundations while Liam Byrne has been re-imagineering party policy. It would be unexpected, to put it mildly, if Ed Miliband were to reward them for doing his bidding with the sack.

Andy Burnham might not be flying high in terms of work rate, but he is a regular feature in the shadow cabinet goal of the month and has run Michael Gove ragged in their Commons exchanges.

Burnham also has an independent constituency in the party, particularly amongst the north western MPs, as demonstrated by his core Parliamentary support in the leadership election.

There would be a lot of blood on the carpet if a figure of the stature of Burnham were in any way demoted.

And Hilary Benn seems to have found his niche as shadow leader of the Commons.

Despite contriving to throw away a leading position at the start of the deputy leadership race won by Harriet, and disappearing as secretary of state at DEFRA, his weekly despatch box speeches on the business of the house give some of the best summations of what is wrong with the government. Even the Daily Mail has been moved to praise him in his new role.

This group of four should be safe.

If these men and Flint and Creagh are protected, that leaves just two shadow cabinet members in the bottom half of the league unaccounted for – Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell

Their vulnerability, and specifically the lack of political cost in cutting them, is the third factor that will mould the reshuffle.

In Woodward’s case, it’s difficult to see a rationale for keeping him in the shadow cabinet. His work-rate shows that he is less than part-time and surely the time is coming for him to free a berth so he can spend more time with his butler.

For Tessa Jowell, it is harder given her renewed levels of output since shadowing cabinet office. But she is now sixty-four and has been a frontbencher since the mid-1990s. She is also resolutely at the under-performer end of the league and in her case it is likely to be time for a younger generation.

Sacking people is never easy, but these two would offer Ed Miliband the path of least resistance.

Overall, this makes for a practical upper limit of four shadow cabinet exits and based on work-rate and the politics of the party they are most likely Shaun Woodward, Tessa Jowell, Anne Mckechin and Meg Hillier.

But if four is the upper limit, then in many ways it is also the lower limit.

One of the new challenges to be faced by Miliband will be how he uses his new power of appointment. Having fought for a change to the rules, to not wield the knife fully would be like reaching for the prize and then not knowing what to do with it.

Sound familiar?

It’s a narrative about his leadership that he needs to squash. He might get away with three new faces, but anything less would hardly demonstrate him making the team his own, not to mention leaving him short of actual supporters around the decision-making table.

The result of hesitancy would be yet another crisis about Ed Miliban’ds leadership style.

And therein lies the single most important lesson to be grasped if the leader really wants to appoint his own shadow cabinet.

Reshuffles always spill blood. The trick is in making sure it’s not too much. But above all else, never under any circumstances his own.

Happy cutting.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “June shadow cabinet league table – and where the knife may fall in future”

  1. AmberStar says:

    It would be more interesting to think in terms of the people who aren’t in the cabinet that Ed Miliband would like to see there, rather than who will be dropped.

    Who are the young stars of the Labour Party, waiting in the wings? Which big hitters want back into the cabinet – is David Miliband ready to return, by any chance; Alan Johnson in a new role?

    Chukah U, Rachel R, David M & Alan J.

    What’s your guess?

Leave a Reply