Shadow cabinet league: Khan still top as Benn barges into top ten

by Alan Smithee

Early on in a season, a league table often struggles to reflect the true strength of teams. Sometimes teams remain high up in a table due to a superficial good start. However, one cannot tell truly until after a good handful of games have passed. The same is true for Uncut’s shadow cabinet table. However, with December’s results’ in, there are still some useful hints at work rate and the tactics used.

Shad Cab table 1

Within the top five, Sadiq Khan remains at number one, fueled by large numbers of written questions and heavily reactive media activity. His impressive performance has continued to cover a broad policy spectrum and, even if it does not pay major immediate political dues, will leave Khan well set up to manage and modify the penal system. The same formula is used by Chris Leslie, Caroline Flint and Chuka Umunna. Flint has continued to use the energy price freeze pledge and rising bills to hammer the government on the cost of living.   Andy Burnham however has focussed his guns in the media sphere working reactive and proactive to attack the failings of government NHS reforms.

The highest riser, Hilary Benn, a man of great experience, barges into the top ten, securing sixth place. Benn’s rocket up the table is partially because his position last month was artificially low – we missed some PQs (to err is human) but also he has forged ahead with self-generated stories based on FOIs designed to hurt and embarrass Eric Pickles. The have ranged from major front page splashes, such as exposing the Tories’ failure on housing to the seemingly more prosaic, such as highlighting the closure of public toilets, but they are all of importance in pushing the government onto the back foot.

The next five see contrasting strategies at work. New top 10 entrant Rachel Reeves has focussed mainly on media comment and proactive stories, as have Yvette Cooper and Vernon Coaker. Reeves enjoyed a good month due to capitalising on the debacle of Universal Credit. By contrast, Jim Murphy is more media-based in terms of their work. Murphy perhaps needs to asking more written questions on the aid money going to Syria and other pressing development issues.

Pushed out by Benn’s entry into the top ten, Tristram Hunt slips to eleven. Although he has continued to be a media presence, Hunt’s failure to submit any written questions in December reduced his effectiveness.

From positions 12 to 16, five of the shadow cabinet are within two points of each other. Gloria de Piero, Maria Eagle and Douglas Alexander have mostly remained in a similar position to the previous month. Alexander remains light on parliamentary activity, possibly due to his role in electoral strategy. However, a big move this month comes from Mary Creagh. Creagh, settling into her transport role, has improved her performance both in terms of media activity and parliamentary questions; the winter travel chaos and fare rises provided good sticks to beat the government with.

A little behind the peloton are three relatively senior members of the Shadow Cabinet. Like last month, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and Angela Eagle are all languishing near the bottom of the table.

Eagle can be excused as her position as shadow leader of the House is not one where you would expect a great deal of activity outside periods of internal Commons reforms. Balls and Harman both need to up their game.

At a time when Labour is pressing its economic case, Balls absence from both the airwaves and parliamentary battlefield is perplexing. At this crucial stage in the parliament, Labour needs a heavy hitter like Balls knocking the Tories around the park rather than standing aside doing a Kevin Pietersen impression.

Harman’s need to fight to be on Labour’s campaigning team signals that she is not a favourite of Miliband and will not be a central part of Labour’s attack in 2015. Yet, there is still potential for scrutiny and harrying in her day-to-day role shadowing Maria Miller that is being unfulfilled.

Near the bottom are those shadowing the Celtic regions who are understandably more focussed away from the national stage. These are not necessarily policy-heavy briefs nor are they explicit campaigning ones either. Smith, Curran and Lewis must keep working to ensure their Secretary of State is accountable, but one should not expect fireworks anytime soon.

Finally, has anyone seen Jon Trickett?

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