A mounting in-tray will curtail Ed’s summer fun

by Kevin Meagher

The annual summer wind-down beckons. Westminster rises for the summer recess this week and MPs will pack up their troubles along with their metaphorical buckets and spades and disperse for sunnier climbs. The silly season begins and through the haze of August, the party conferences loom.

After hitting his stride over the past few weeks with more assured parliamentary performances and some genuine speed and boldness in response to the hacking scandal, Ed Miliband at last has wind in his sails.

But it is not all plain sailing for him. A pile of knotty party management problems is accumulating which needs his careful attention.

First up is the selection of a new Labour general secretary to succeed Ray Collins. This is a pivotal appointment for him (well, technically the national executive). Ed needs a figure capable of energising the party, but also someone long enough in the tooth to know what the party can and cannot deliver for him. The choice is down to a respected insider, current deputy Chris Lennie, and a well-regarded outsider, the GMB’s political officer Iain McNicol. Today is decision day.

Then the political gets personal as Ed has to make good on his bid to scrap elections to the shadow cabinet. The parliamentary party backed his plan last week. The NEC will most likely rubber-stamp it today before a nod-through at conference in September. We can presumably expect a reshuffle thereafter.

So far, so straightforward; but Ed has two subsequent problems. First, he has to decide whether he will deliver on his leadership campaign pledge to see half the places go to women. Doing so means chopping-off at least one of the men currently elected to sit around the cramped shadow cabinet table.

Second, he has to reward his supporters. What is the point of being an Ed loyalist if that does not meet with preferment at moments like these? Ergo, the problem he has is that rewarding friends and allies will be seen to punish supposed critics and enemies. This, in turn, risks fuelling talk of splits and infighting.

A prime minister carries the clout of office, he or she can reward and fire ministers more freely. An opposition leader is always vulnerable from displaced colleagues and needs to tread carefully. Elections to the shadow cabinet, for all their obvious faults, allowed his predecessors to play the hands they were dealt. They had plausible deniability in not rewarding pals. Now Ed is free to choose his cards. But what will those who miss out think?

After that, there is publication of the draft parliamentary boundary review, which is set to abolish fifty parliamentary seats. Again, Ed’s colleagues will be looking for assurances that they will have space in the lifeboat when the commission rips up the electoral map. Its provisional report on 12 September will generate howls of anguish and no shortage of frantic calls to the leader’s office – just ahead of the party conference.

Here at least Ed is guaranteed a warm reception. The conference floor has long been a safe refuge for Labour leaders. Ed is 50,000 new members and 800 new councillors in credit. But danger lurks around the fringe. This is the time when ‘debates’ easily tip over into ‘rows’.

This year purple and blue Labour will compete for airtime; and they will get it. There will be noticeably fewer think tanks, trade associations, big companies and charities vying for attention, leaving the party’s ginger groups to make the noise, (happily amplified by the media looking for criticisms both real and imagined). Labour will get a cold reminder of what being in opposition means with soirees and dinners fewer and farther between, leaving more time for plotting and gossiping in hotel bars.

More mundanely, the Labour party is still brassic, with the party’s coffers as empty as Rebecca Brookes’ leaving collection. The £1 million donation from Andrew Rosenfeld, reported over the weekend, will need to be the first of many similar injections of cash if the party is to step up its campaigning momentum as we enter the critical middle phase of the parliament.

Without departments to run, opposition leaders are measured on how successfully they manage their own parties. As I said at the beginning, there is no plain sailing this summer. Ed has some rocky coastline he needs to navigate around. A lot hinges on him doing so successfully. No time for sandcastles and sun lotion this year I’m afraid.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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2 Responses to “A mounting in-tray will curtail Ed’s summer fun”

  1. paul barker says:

    Labours position is a little worse than broke. If another 22 Billionaires give you a Million each that would only wipe out your debts, leaving you with nothing in the Bank.

    Those 50,000 new members increased Labour membership by 30,000 but that was last year. Current membership is falling.

  2. AmberStar says:

    @ paul barker

    Or we could sell our Party to one billionaire tax dodger, like the Tories sold themselves to Lord Ashcroft…

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