Picking the right shadow chancellor is more important than the deputy leadership race

by Kevin Meagher

Being deputy leader of the Labour party is a bit like being president of a golf club. The role is largely honorary, conferring on its incumbent a level of artificial seniority, safely removed from the actual running of things. At least with the golf club, you might get a few free rounds. The reward for being deputy leader of the Labour party is the graveyard slot on Thursday morning at the party conference.

Historically, it’s been used to bring balance to the leadership, so, in essence, the post-holder represents the losing wing of the party. So it was with Denis Healey and, later, with John Prescott. Occasionally, a bone is thrown to show the party’s progressive tendencies. So working-class Ted Short replaced snooty Roy Jenkins and Margaret Beckett became the first woman deputy leader (and interim leader following John Smith’s death).

The only interesting pitch in recent years, from someone hoping to become the rear portion of this particular pantomime horse, came from Jon Cruddas when he went for the job back in 2007. He promised to forego a frontbench role and instead concentrate on the unglamorous task of developing the party’s organisation. Most other contenders are happy to inherit this pitcher of warm spit on the basis that an upturned bucket offers the chance to step-up.

But it doesn’t. Labour’s next shadow chancellor is an altogether more important appointment for the future of the party. Whatever analysis is eventually settled on to explain the party’s dire election defeat, routinely finding itself 20 points behind David Cameron and George Osborne on questions of economic credibility and who voters trust to manage their money was surely a huge part of it.

Closing this gap has must be the party’s Number One strategic priority. Ed Balls didn’t manage it during his four years as shadow chancellor. He was too easy to paint into a corner, fairly or unfairly, as part of the cause of the economy’s problems. A point hammered home by his indifferent performances in his Budget day responses.

The Conservative message on the economy: ‘We’ve weathered the storm/ Taken tough decisions/ Developed a long-term economic plan/ Brought back growth/ Don’t take a chance on irresponsible Miliband-Balls,’ was brutally simplistic and consistent.

Labour simply had no answer, having failed to frame the circumstances of 2008 and the subsequent bank bail-outs when it was in government and had a better chance to do so. In opposition, the frontbench offered no coherent critique of George Osborne’s abysmal record on growth and debt-reduction that managed to cut-through with voters.

But when you choose to adopt a 35 per cent strategy, you become dulled to the need to do so. What a party says about the economy, or about spending priorities, or about where it seeks to draw-in money, defines who it is targeting, electorally. Labour calculated that it didn’t need to appeal to 65 per cent of the voters, so decided not to.

While the shadow chancellor is the leader’s principal general, helping enforce caution, moderation and consistency across the frontbench, he or she is also dictates in whose interests the party seeks to govern, tuning the economic and financial dials up and down accordingly.

Given the importance of the role, is it not slightly odd that the party has another 12 weeks to contemplate its next golf club president, but will have no say over the appointment of its main general? While the idea of putting Labour’s next leader on probation and reviewing their performance after three years is a completely insane, destabilising suggestion, applying it to the next shadow chancellor makes more sense.

If Labour isn’t breaking through on the economy two years out from the next general election, then it will lose again. You don’t need to be an economist to work that out. Better and easier to jettison a failing shadow chancellor than a leader.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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7 Responses to “Picking the right shadow chancellor is more important than the deputy leadership race”

  1. 07052015 says:

    Yes agreed shadow chancellor is far more important than deputy so candidates should tell us who they want.

    Clearly andy wants rachel,assuming liz wants chuka ,dont know about yvette or jeremy or mary.

    Deputy should be split into organisation and party on the one hand and rebuttal/media on the other.Tom for former ,caroline for latter would be a good compromise.

  2. madasafish says:

    In opposition, the frontbench offered no coherent critique of George Osborne’s abysmal record on growth and debt-reduction that managed to cut-through with voters.

    I assume by the above you imply that a new Shadow Chancellor will have a policy on growth and debt reduction..

    Debt reduction is interesting. Your comment is correct: under Osborne debt has risen and not reduced..so to acheived that debt reduction a Labour Governemnt will have to run a surplus eevry yeear.. which means reducing the current deficit of c £75B a year by a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and growth..

    And to achieve growth you need business investment, job creation and business frindly policies..Which means ditching anti business rhetoric, stopping knocking wealth creators and not overtaxing the better off.

    All 180 degree turns from the abject failures of Ed’s Leasedership.

    This also means basically ignoing your own left wing supporters and virtually inviting the most vocal to vote for another Party – one that believes in tax and spending and the magic money tree.. IF you don’t want to loe them in their hundreds of thousands – if not millions – you need to educate them in the economic facts of life..

    Good luck with that…the Scots won’t like it not will the voters in London and metropoltan areas.. You’ll have to impose continued “austerity” on welfare spending for the next 10 years..and continue the squeeze on NHS spending..

    Basically you’ll end up supporting all the Tory polcies on welfare cuts which you have so vociferously opposed..

    Even more luck with expaining that to your supporters who have been told for years that these cuts are evil..And it’s good to brrow to invest..

    Labour’s strategy has been to dig itself a big economic hole and jump right in it… and now you want to dig yourself out..

    You don’t need a competent Shadow Chancellor: you need a miracle worker who is as smooth tongued and persuasive as Tony Blair was before the Iraq war..And a Tory meltdown. And luck: lots of it..

  3. Landless Peasant says:

    When you’ve all done arguing amongst yourselves and scratching your heads over Labour’s oh so mysterious defeat, perhaps you can turn your attention towards something relevant to the lives of millions of people. Would someone at Labour care to comment on why the Chartered Institute for Housing has said that Universal Credit is worse than the old Poor Law?

  4. Madasafish says:

    As usual, Landless misquotes:

    “The Chartered Institute of Housing has said the government’s plans to make people wait seven days before they’re entitled to benefits is “worse than the poor law”.”

  5. swatantra says:

    Disagree . A Deputy is only a heartbeat away from the Top Job, and his/her finger could be on the nuclear button.
    And these days a PM and Chancellor confer on the direction of the economy, and it usually goes the PM’s way.

  6. Tafia says:

    Landless Peasant – you continually overlook a fact. Labour lost the election because in England, the electorate – including a significant chunk of their core voter base, shifted rightwards to the tories (who intirn moved further right), or even further right to UKIP.

    You continually fail to acknowledge that even Labour’s internal polling revealed ( much to their horror) that a significant percentage Labour’s blue-collar base was anti-EU, wanted immigration curbing drastically, and was in support of capping and reducing benefits. That blue collar base remember, is also the majority of the trades union membership and the unions themselves wee equally aghast. What should be Labour’s core vote broadly support what Cameron/Osborne say and want to do – and they fully understand the ramifications. Hence why Cameron now calls the tories th’the party of the workers’.

    And until you address the concerns of those blue-collar former Labour voters to their satisfaction you are not going to win a general election anytime soon 0 in fact Labour’s decline has probably only just started.

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Madasafish

    When applied to the payment cycle of Universal Credit the waiting time means that people will be left without money for 6 weeks. See The Void for further info.

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