October shadow cabinet league table

by Atul Hatwal

Back in June, based on a review of the first year’s performance in the shadow cabinet league, and the underlying politics of the party, I predicted four shadow cabinet exits – Meg Hillier, Anne Mckechin, Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell. Sure enough, the first three have departed, while Jowell has been moved down from Cabinet Office to shadow the Olympics and is expected to leave after the games next year.

The new shadow cabinet is four weeks old today. Contrary to Harold Wilson’s phrase, a week is not a long time in politics, and neither is a month. It takes years to build, or bring down, reputations.

Despite the anarchy at the top of the last Labour government over a period of years, Gordon Brown’s reputation for economic competence was remarkably resilient at the time. As is David Cameron’s despite his government’s economic record.

So the first month performance of the new shadow cabinet is unlikely to dramatically redefine the political landscape. But there are some hints at what the coming year might hold.

At the top, in amidst the familiar faces picking up from last term, Caroline Flint and Andy Burnham have pushed their way into the top six while three of the shadow cabinet newbies – Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Jon Trickett have staked out positions in the top ten.

Caroline Flint has had a busy month. Despite being moved down from shadowing communities and local government (DCLG) to the department of energy and cimate change (DECC), Flint has been a blur of activity.

She has issued eleven media releases in the past month, more than ever before, scored an urgent question in the chamber, forcing Chris Huhne back to the despatch box to explain government policy on feed-in-tariffs and made three speeches in the House of Commons.

It’s almost as if she had a point to prove.

A little more of this type of bite and fight from Caroline Flint in her old job might have seen her eyeing a step up from CLG rather than the shift to DECC. But if she maintains this workrate then she could yet prove some of those high placed doubters in the leader’s circle wrong.

In contrast to Caroline Flint’s involuntary shadow cabinet switch, Andy Burnham’s first words at the despatch box on his return to the health brief were “It’s good to be back”.

Actions speak louder than words and his first month’s workrate show us that he was telling the truth.

Nine media releases – including a story that nailed an inadvertent admission by the prime minister that the government had broken its promise to increase NHS annual funding in real terms – tell of a minister rejuvenated.

Although the passage of the health bill through Parliament gives greater opportunity for profile, Burnham’s relish in taking the fight to the government is undeniable.

If Ed Miliband wanted more forceful leadership for Labour on health, Burnham has clearly given him what he wants. The question will be how Andy Burnham maintains this level of profile, presence and pressure in the coming months as the legislative cycle moves on.

Below Andy Burnham, three new shadow cabinet entrants make their debut in the league – Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Jon Trickett.

Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna earned their positions off the back of solid media work.  They are the faces of Labour’s new generation and have applied themselves diligently in their new briefs.

Umunna in particular is the poster boy for the 2010 intake and his progress will be closely tracked. His initial Parliamentary exchange with Vince Cable was crisp and he was more focused and pithy than many of his more experienced colleagues.

For both Reeves and Umunna, the media spotlight is going to get brighter with each passing month. Theirs is a good start but how they deal with the scrutiny and pressure will define whether they fulfil their potential and grow into true star performers.

Jon Trickett is the very opposite of the meteoric 2010 shadow cabinet entrants.

He was first elected in 1996 and completed a fifteen year journey from backbencher to top table when he took on the cabinet office brief from Tessa Jowell – the longest apprenticeship of anyone in shadow cabinet.

Experience can be under-rated; and quite apart from Trickett’s symbolic role to those ambitious members of the Parliamentary Labour party unfortunate enough to have been elected before 2010, he demonstrated some of that practical nous in his first joust with Francis Maude.

Trickett came armed with the knotty fact that Francis Maude, the government’s scion of transparency, has been responsible for a drop in the response to FOIs on time by the Cabinet Office from 90% in March 2010 to 42% in March this year.

Maude floundered at the despatch box and Trickett came off best from the exchange.  The benefits of having been around for a while.

But having done the preparatory work and executed well, there was no follow-up media release to then publicise the success. In fact, Jon Trickett is notable as the most senior shadow minister not to have yet issued a single media release.

This will need to change, but if he can improve his media workrate, Jon Trickett’s long ascent may not have reached its peak yet.

After just a month, it’s difficult to divine anything definitive for any league. But the signs from the top ten are encouraging.

If there is a general lesson to be drawn from the first month, it probably came at the start of October, when the new team was formed. Workrate matters. It’s not the be all and end all, but the experience of the first reshuffle was that it did have a major bearing on how the shadow cabinet was re-shaped.

It will take a couple of months for the league to settle down and while those at the bottom need not be concerned yet, workrate in the coming months will be a factor in determining who gets on, and who is ushered out.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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7 Responses to “October shadow cabinet league table”

  1. swatantra says:

    Rachael Reeves has a crucial role and she needs to display a bit more confidence at the Dispatch Box. She should be able to demolish her opposite number.

  2. swatantra says:

    Danny Alexander, Justine Greening and Chloe Smith, all look a bit scary.

  3. Andy Howell says:

    Rather distiurbing to see Ed Balls so low down, btu that kind of echoes the impression I et in general!

  4. swatantra says:

    I bet they’re all wishing they hadn’t brought in League Tables!

  5. AmberStar says:

    @ Andy Howell

    Rather distiurbing to see Ed Balls so low down, btu that kind of echoes the impression I et in general!

    I’m surprised at his low ranking because every time I switch on the TV, Ed Balls seems to be on a news or current affairs program attacking Osborne’s lack of policies for growth.

    Ed B is brilliant at PMQs… & yes, I do know that PMQs is just entertainment for politics geeks, but Ed’s ‘evil pixie’ grin totally discombobulates David Cameron. Whenever Ed B catches Cameron’s eye, Cameron stumbles over his words or begins to bluster. It’s hilarious to watch… 🙂

  6. AmberStar says:

    Andy Burnham has been really good on health. John Healey… what were we thinking? Let’s hope Andy B can undo some of the damage & our team succeeds in stopping the LibDem Lords from folding faster than superman on laundry day!

  7. Mike Homfray says:

    It does depend on what job the individual is doing as well – Tom Watson’s role is likely to be ‘backroom’ and he won’t be issuing press releases in his name – but he will undoubtedly make an impact. Ed rates him highly.

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