Fear and loathing in the PLP: what really happened in Labour’s reshuffle

by Atul Hatwal

The cracks are beginning to show. Over the weeks since Ed Miliband reshuffled the shadow cabinet, Uncut has been contacted by a range of different sources, seeking to tell their side of the story about what is going on beneath the slowly fracturing façade of PLP unity.

Piecing together the various accounts, a rather different picture emerges of the reshuffle, to the one commonly reported.

At the heart of it is a leader’s office dominated by fear.

Not fear of what the Tories are doing to the country, or for the electoral battle to come, but a fatalistic conviction that Ed Miliband will either be toppled as Labour’s leader before the next election, or so destabilised as to be incapable of fighting effectively.

This fear framed the reshuffle as Ed Miliband attempted to deal with Blairites, Ballsites, the new hero of the soft left, Andy Burnham and even the young pretender, Chuka Umunna.

The cull of the three Blairites – Jim Murphy, Liam Byrne and Steven Twigg – has been widely discussed, but what is less well known, Westminster sources suggest, is that when faced with Ed Miliband’s concerted move against them, the three discussed their options.

Collective resignation was the first impulse but two factors are said to have changed their minds: the sense that this was their party too and they could still exert some influence on policy; and that any resignation would simply have been written up as sour grapes from the snubbed.

The deep anger felt by each of the three is not in question. Liam Byrne is said to be particularly aggrieved – sources familiar with his thinking say that in over two years as shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, the number of times he was able to sit down with the leader and discuss the issues around welfare, can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Not including the thumb.

The combination of heartfelt anger along with a desire not to be seen to put career over party, raises the possibility for resignations downstream on points of principle.

From the perspective of a worried leader’s office, it would almost have been better if the three had resigned and their powder was spent. Any subsequent rebellion could have been dismissed as yet more Blairite sour grapes.

Now there is the hanging threat, every time a divisive issue arises. If there were to be a re-run of the Syria vote, would Jim Murphy stay in the shadow cabinet?

But, if Ed Miliband’s personal team is concerned about the Blairites, it is as nothing to their fear of the Ballsites.

Yvette Cooper, the bookies’ favourite to be next leader, is the figure haunting Miliband’s nightmares. All sides know that if Ed Miliband fell under a bus this side of a general election – metaphorically or literally – she would be almost unbeatable.

It was widely canvassed at Labour conference that Ed Miliband was thinking of swapping Cooper and Burnham to weaken both. But he was unable to shift the increasingly popular Burnham (of which more later), and the entrenched Cooper, so he took other action.

The equalities brief was stripped away from Cooper and given to Gloria Di Piero.

Although a comparatively minor part of her portfolio, the change deprives Cooper of a platform she had been using effectively to define herself as a champion of women’s rights, broadening her appeal on the left and consolidating her support among the party’s powerful women’s networks.

Miliband also moved to undermine the power behind Yvette Cooper’s run for leader, clipping Ed Balls’ wings with the appointment of Spencer Livermore to run the general election campaign.

The antagonism between the Livermore and Balls is well known, since the former became the scapegoat for the election that never was in November 2007 and was forced out of Gordon Brown’s team in Number 10.

This appointment means the shadow chancellor will have virtually no say in the strategy or detail of the general election campaign, and most importantly, will be unable to help his wife secure the type of campaign profile needed, in the coming months, to publicly cement her position as the next leader.

Within the world of the Ballsites, these changes have been keenly felt, deepening the mistrust between the shadow chancellor and leader. The Ballsites already suspect that Miliband would have moved Ed Balls if he was strong enough and now relations are at a new low.

Remarkably, it is a level of antipathy that, sources suggest, is almost replicated in what had initially been one of the warmer relationships in the shadow cabinet – between Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham.

Burnham’s journey from New Labour stalwart to bulwark against any private involvement in the NHS has delighted the Labour left and unnerved the leader’s office. Members of the PLP talk about a Burnham campaign in an advanced state of readiness with over 20 MPs ready to commit to his cause.

The shadow health secretary’s megaphone lobbying over summer, where he campaigned loudly to both stay in his job and have the party adopt his plans for integrated health and social care, are just the latest evidence of the extent to which communication has broken down with the leader.

Sources close to the shadow health secretary describe a man who has passed beyond frustration with his leader. They suggest a similar experience to Liam Byrne’s, where attempts to have substantive dialogue with Ed Miliband about the detail of policy have been evaded while the shadow secretary’s policy proposals have been run into the sand by the leader’s office.

That Andy Burnham was able to resist Ed Miliband’s desire to move him is indicative of Burnham’s new strength and the power of having support from the left.

If Ed Miliband was thwarted in his desire to limit Andy Burnham’s ambition, he was more successful in his action to restrain Chuka Umunna’s rising star.

Umunna might have once been the leader’s PPS, but latterly Miliband’s aides have been looking on in a state of growing agitation at Umunna’s outsized personal office and assiduous charming of journalists and PLP colleagues.

Umunna’s interview with Progress magazine, where he was the cover star for the conference issue, was seen as the latest step in an escalating leadership campaign. The manner in which he went out of his way to criticise the European candidate selection process in London, and back Anne Fairweather’s candidacy, was viewed as a shameless play for the centrist vote within the party.

Although Umunna remained at BIS in the reshuffle, sources suggest team Miliband have acted by introducing a rival into the political reckoning, to split Chuka’s core vote.

Tristram Hunt is being positioned as the anti-Chuka.

Expect Hunt to be given substantial policy leeway and prime media opportunities, much as Chuka once enjoyed, to set a Hunt-for-leader bandwagon rolling, preferably straight into Chuka’s.

In one sense, the careful consideration demonstrated by Ed Miliband in his attempt to stymie his rivals is impressive.

The senior Blairites who were Ed Miliband’s peers as advisers and MPs have been successfully demoted. Yvette Cooper can no longer cast herself as the party’s Boudicca and will have to concentrate on out toughing the Tories on law and order – hardly the sweetspot for activists.

Ed Balls has been cut out of election planning and within a year, Chuka will have a rival for the role of “new hope”.

Andy Burnham might have emerged unscathed, but team Miliband can content themselves that the Tories’ focus on Mid Staffs and his tenure at the department of health will damage his leadership credentials.

Yet, while the leader’s office achieved most of what they wanted, they have not resolved any of the core problems. The rivalries are still there, now deepened by the bitterness of the reshuffle.

If Labour had maintained a double digit headline poll lead, and pulled ahead on the economy, all of these considerations would be irrelevant. But it hasn’t.

If and when the polls continue to narrow, as the pressure mounts, then these very real divisions will become increasingly visible beyond the Westminster village. At that point, with a party potentially descending into open conflict, how Ed Miliband responds will define his leadership.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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45 Responses to “Fear and loathing in the PLP: what really happened in Labour’s reshuffle”

  1. barry says:

    Too much kremlinolgy? interesting as it is (take Hunt over Chuka any day). Yvette doesn’t have to (only) out-tough – she could have ‘done a Burnham’ by criticizing our frankly appalling legacy on civil/legal rights. Would have gone down well with the activists! As is, it feels like, after the proverbial bus incident, she would be leader without much of an army.

  2. swatantra says:

    Thanks for lifting the lid Atul.
    I’ve always felt that Burnham would have been the better choice as Leader.
    If things do come to a head, then we must have a leadership challenge and Election in 2014, after the Euros but before the Conference. labour cannot afford to let things drift, as in the Brown years. Good that Burnham is showing his Left credentials and Chuka his Compass roots. With Balls and Cooper out of the picture a Burnham Chuka team would be unbeatable, and solidly left of Centre, as most in the Party want.
    Hunt is going nowhere, simply because he has no base Trade Unionwise or anywise.

  3. Jane says:

    Many thanks for this article which has been most helpful as I tried to understand the movements in shadow cabinet.

  4. paul barker says:

    Yet another thoughtful article but no sign of any strategy for Labour Centrists. You seem resigned to Labour losing badly in 2015 so I suppose you are planning for 2020 but why wait. Why not join The Libdems now & actually have some influence in the real world ?

  5. John Ruddy says:

    You are Dan Hodges and I claim my £5

  6. Jon says:

    Wow, what a load of ****.

  7. Danny says:

    “Uncut has been contacted by a range of different sources”

    Care to provide any of these sources? Or will you leave the thinking reader to arrive at the only logical conclusion possible; this is the most appallingly biased and ill-thought out fiction to arise from Labour Uncut. And that is saying a hell of a lot considering the baseless nonsense, spurious polling figures and total drivel you frequently publish these days (see Julian Ruck, the heralded “YouGov for Uncut” polling and Marchant’s doom-mongering).

    John Ruddy has it right.

    It is getting beyond parody now. Atul, spare yourself the time when you next sit down to pen an article and simply write the following:

    “I hate the fact Ed Miliband is Labour leader, desperately want Tony Blair to be in charge again and failing that, David Miliband, think all Unions are evil and left-wing policies are stupid.”

    It’s pretty much what every article of yours is saying, and at least you don’t have to make anything up or reference any questionable data when typing it.

    Beyond parody.

  8. Renie Anjeh says:

    Andy Burnham is such a twerp and should never be Leader. He ran in 2010 as the most rightwing candidate for the leadership – only people who backed his campaign were diehard ultra-Blairites. He now pretends to be a grown-up Owen Jones. He should be ditched before 2015, as a punishment, and replaced with Liz Kendall. As for Hunt, I want to see him and Chuka work together before 2015. Hunt-Ummuna leadership post-2015 could help counter the Coalition.

  9. John reid says:

    Will Ed do the decent thing after he loses the election, or will he try to stay on Ala Kinnock, of course if he did go like William Hague, then the way the Tories replaced Hague with IDs, then the unions might get Balls in,

  10. steve says:

    Well, that was far more exciting than a gruesomely torrid episode of Coronation Street, thank you.

    The Special Conference outcome will most likely determine the degree of fisticuffs. If the Unions retain significant influence the Blairites will probably go ballistic – should be a fine old spectacle.

    But if Ed is removed at least Andy Burnham provides a coherent alternative to those who are huddled beneath the Blairite comfort blanket.

  11. paul barker says:

    Some people need to read up on The Labour constitution. While it is theoretically possible to sack a Labour Leader, in practise its impossible without agreement across the 3 sectors, MPs, Members & Unions & between Left & Right.
    There may well be Plots against Milliband next year but if so, they will be acts of desperation, irrational & pointless.

  12. Fred says:

    paul barker thanks for that. We need Miliband, he is as electable as soiled underwear.

  13. icoopercap says:

    Sounds like the Brown years all over again!

  14. bob says:

    Fred says:
    October 17, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    paul barker thanks for that. We need Miliband, he is as electable as soiled underwear.

    But you elected him as a sock puppet for Unite and McClusky. Now you can’t get rid of him under the rules which were put in place after the Livingstone GLC coup. Oh dear, what a blow, how sad.

  15. Fred – you mean he’s pants?

  16. Simon says:

    When you get 5 minutes from fighting each other any chance you can be a credible opposition?

  17. swatantra says:

    A grown up ‘Owen Jones’ is probably what the Party needs right now, since the real Owen Jones is a bit raw around the edges.
    And, there is a procedure for ditching a Leader and getting another,one with more chance of doing better. EdM simply does not insipre the public very much.

  18. Ken says:

    Renie Anjeh said: “Andy Burnham is such a twerp and should never be Leader. He ran in 2010 as the most rightwing candidate for the leadership”

    You mean that rightwing campaign that had the word ‘socialism’ plastered all over it??! Even before the election he was trying to limit the power of the market in the NHS

  19. Madasafish says:

    Reading the article – and I have no idea if accurate or not – it rather reads like the Republicans and the Tea Party vs Obama.. but with rather less charisma and ideas.

  20. Leslie48 says:

    The idea that Stephen Twigg could hang onto any job just defies logic. Labour has been AWOL on education & still looks that way. No one out there could name anyone who speaks for Labour on education. As millions of pupils, students, parents, teachers, lecturers, private school heads, state school heads,colleges and universities including Cambribge & the Russel group are in a state of exasperation over proposed exam changes reducing opportunities, the ongoing ‘immiseration’ of the teaching profession ( because they are an easy ‘cuts’ target for the Tories) which threatens the recruitment of good honours graduates and the worst labour relations in education for what…30 years. Labour has to have some guts and stop banging on about free schools and tell the UK public what they can offer in place of the ideologue Gove!

  21. Graham Jones MP says:

    From Graham Jones MP – Labour Whips office 2010-present

    I have never read such bollocks since David Ike opened his mouth. If you’re a Labour voter I wouldn’t consider anything written here as serious. To be fair nearly all journalists have written stories that in time have turned out to be wrong.

  22. uglyfatbloke says:

    Trouble with dead wood is it gets in the way and may catch fire with just a very small spark. Mr & Mrs Cooper-Balls are as much of a dead weight on Ed as Murphy, if not more so, but it seems he’s stuck with them., OTH Balls will always be associated with Brown and Darling on the economy and I can’t think of anyone in he shadow cabinet that has any fondness for civil liberties, so maybe things don’t look that good for the GE….and yet just a few weeks ago almost everyone seemed to think it was going to be a piece of cake.

  23. @Renie Anjeh says: October 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm
    Andy Burnham is such a twerp … He now pretends to be a grown-up Owen Jones.

    Grown-up Owen Jones? There is no such thing. Still, he’s lasted longer than Laurie Penny, and still hasn’t clocked the total contradiction that he is, poor little Owen – he rails against the end of social mobility, yet exemplifies social mobility in action.

    None to bright, little Owen.

  24. NBeale says:

    The privately educated Hon Tristram as future leader of the Labour Party!

    You couldn’t make it up!!

  25. Steve says:

    If Ed wins in 2015 – what will the naysayer’s excuse be then? An appalling article

  26. Les Abbey says:

    Now if only Progress and the Blairites hadn’t sabotaged Livingstone’s mayoral bid they might have been a little more trusted.

  27. john reid says:

    Renie, David watts backed Andy Burnham, as did Peter Wheeler of the NEC and Roger liddle backed him,with Diane as his second choice, remind me who lord John Reid ,and Mandleson backed, .oh it was your choice David Milband

  28. Danny says:

    I take it Graham Jones MP was not one of your sources then Atul?

    Come on, just name a few. For someone who purports to be a Labour supporter, conjuring up this entirely fictional and potentially damaging article is disgraceful.

    If you can only support a Labour Party with Tony Blair or David Miliband as its leader, f*** off and join the Tories, you’d make a better fit. And you wouldn’t have to worry about Unions either! Funding from millionaires and corporations with vested interests is infinitely more favourable. Then this website could be called Conservative Uncut and thus prove more reflective of its contributors ideology.

  29. Labour Supporter says:

    @Ken – Andy Burnham called for the abolition of inheritance tax and the abolition of stamp duty. He wanted Labour to accept cuts to the deficit, he was completely unapologetic on the Iraq War – the only people who backed him were diehard Blairites. He was the Health Minister who put forward a lot of Pat Hewitt’s reforms to the NHS. He put David as his second choice, but now he has joined some of the soft Bennites in a cynical bid to undermine Ed.

  30. John reid says:

    Labour supporter soft Bennites, I take it you mean Blairites,

  31. GSilver says:

    Chuka Umunna’s is more a janus character than a rising star … although thats a bit simplistic as he has at least 3 faces! the gods (roman or otherwise) help this country if he was given real power.

  32. Numbnuts says:

    If anyone on here thinks “Death Camp” Burnham is a rising star they are very much mistaken. His tenure of the NHS marks him out as a wrong’un just like Ed Balls record at the Treasury. Chukka Umuna is a self-regarding spiv who could be in any of the parties and merely stands for self-advancement.

    Serious Labour leaders to my mind would be Cooper and Darling (but perhaps he wouldn’t want it)

    That’s it.

  33. Pickasso aka mike caine says:

    Milkyband has been called Red cos he is and Green cos of the taxes he has everyone paying for energy – even those who otherwise are exempt from income tax

    Looking to see what colour results from mixing red and green the answer turned out to be sh*t brown which seems accurate given lunatic Gordy’s blessing for the Milkyband Kid.

    Just thought you might want to know that

  34. Freda Bothwell says:

    They are all a bunch of immature, self promoting, nasty school boys who do not give a toss about the country or the people.

  35. John says:

    Burnham’s involvement with the MidStaffs tragedy is an open goal for any opposition party. It allows the statement ‘The NHS is NOT safe in Labour’s hands’ to be used
    The big mistake was NOT sacking him

  36. John reid says:

    Danny, you want the only person who has got labour moe than 40% of the vote(twice) in the last 46 years, to join the Tories, don’t tell me losing on a far left manifesto,is a moral victory,

  37. Allan says:

    John Ruddy is on the money here, you do sound like the closet Tory Dan Hodges. If Liam Byrne is so agreeved, why doesn’t he think about why his stance over the Bedroom Tax lead to “Scottish” Labour politician after “Scottish” Labour politician receive ritual beatings by pro-Independence supporters on the Scottish Media.

    We do still matter, do we?

  38. Simon Fowler says:

    Lets have a moment of reality here. Who outside the Labour Party has heard of Yvette Cooper. And what has done or said that has made the newspapers. If Ed fell under the proverbial bus surely Labour could do better than this. Hattie Harperson for example

  39. Angela Lowry says:

    Please keep Miliband as leader. Speaking as a tory he is Cameron’s secret weapon,lol!

  40. John reid says:

    Les abbey- progress sabotaged Livingstones 2012 mayoral bid, Stephen pound, Tessa Jowell, David lammy, Jon Cruddas and Denis. Mcshsne, were all Livingstones biggest supporters, apart from dan hodges, who as far as I know has never wrote for progress, and Lord sugar who has never been a Blairite, I don’t know of any so called people who about waged livingstone spawn. After all Denis skinner, Gordon broken, John Prescott, Michael cashman , the Kinnocks, and Godon, were all the ones who voted for Livingstone to not be allowed to rejoin, Livingstone should blame someone closer to him for him losing in 2012′ he even blamed the BBC

  41. Tafia says:

    Yvette Cooper may well be the bookies favourite to be leader but that does not necesarrily mean she is bookies favourite to ber PM.

    Leader is an internal issue. PM ans external one.

    She is a gargoyle that the majority of the British public would not piss on if she was lying in the gutter burning. A horrible woman who presents appallingly. A shrieker. hysteric and an irritant.

  42. uglyfatbloke says:

    How has it come to this? Is there a secret tory hit squad that kidnaps Labour talent and locks it away and thereby helps to ensure the rise of the idiotocracy? The coterie of cronies (even if they actually hate and despise one another) that holds the reins is just dreadful. Mr & Mrs Cooper-balls are among the noisiest and most arrogant, but they are no worse than the other wealthy and privileged buffoons like Ummuna or Darling.

  43. Richard Marvell says:

    And so we see in all its glory the cesspit that is Westminster politics and the frankly unforgiveable avarice of political self-interest still thriving in an organisation conducive to such conduct.

    Basically the upper echelons of the Labour Party has not changed its modus operandi since the days of Blair and Brown – just the protaganists. Odious effluent such as Balls is still involved up to his neck in it of course.

  44. Ex-labour says:

    Nice one Atul. Keep up the good work. You see here a truly united party.

    @Graham Jones MP

    Fuck off to you too.

    @ everyone else

    Please please please do not get rid of Ed, Burnham or Balls. I’m sure Crosby will be unleashing a shit storm at the GE about Ed’s green energy hypocrisy, Balls mismanagement of the economy as understudy to Mr Charisma Brown and Andy – NHS is safe with me – Burnham.

    Labour has really forgotten what it’s purpose is and is being run by progressive liberal activists. Representing the ordinary person has long gone out of the window.

  45. John reid says:

    Ex labour,you do realsie that Burnham issued a legal writ against the Tories over their se arts hat kids Taffs was his fault,

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