Uncut presents the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition

by Atul Hatwal

Readers to choose from Alexander, Balls, Cooper, Healey and Murphy to pick best performance

Back in January, Uncut launched a monthly shadow cabinet league table.  It tracks shadow cabinet members’ effort in Parliament and outside in the media. But, effort, while a useful measure, isn’t the whole picture. One frequent comment has been that the table focuses only on process and effort, whereas it is important to looking at results as well.

Fair point.

We present the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition.

The contest has been developed to recognise the successes in the shadow cabinet, based the impact they have had.

Judging quality is a subjective business. One person’s barnstorming performance at the despatch box is another’s unhinged rant. And that’s where you, the Uncut public come in.

Five examples of the shadow cabinet at their best have been painstakingly sifted from the past month’s action in the Commons and the media. They are set out here for you to consider and then cast your vote to award the most prestigious title in Labour politics – Uncut shadow cabinet goal of the month.

As with the league, this isn’t intended to be the be all and end all, but it gives a view of recent highlights.

This month’s five contenders are, in alphabetical order: Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, John Healey and Jim Murphy.

1. Alexander fells the great white buffalo

William Hague came into office with a reputation as a sparkling Commons performer, an elder statesman with experience as a cabinet minister and a general wit and raconteur. He was deputy leader of the Conservative party in all but name.

How the mighty have fallen.

And in that fall, Douglas Alexander deserves his share of credit.

Questionable personal decisions and Foreign Office bungling might have taken their toll on Hague, but without Alexander’s work-rate and scrutiny, the impact on the Foreign Secretary’s effectiveness would have remained unexposed.

The exchange between Alexander and Hague over the bizarre secret mission in Libya which ended with the Benghazi rebels arresting the British party provides a parliamentary snapshot of the moment a big beast was felled.

As ever with the Commons, piercing wit was the weapon.

Alexander’s deadpan delivery of an expertly framed analogy succinctly demonstrated the true absurdity of the situation. It delivered Hague his worst moment in the Commons in over twenty years.

The exchange ran on the news and was widely quoted in the papers the next day. But beyond the immediate impact, it will have contributed to a more substantive change not instantly visible.

Cameron has used Hague as his emissary to the right, reassuring them and holding them in check. The weakening of Hague’s position in such a public way at the despatch box will have hit his influence as hard as it hurt his pride. The result will be to bring the moment where the Tory right mobilises against their leadership that bit nearer.

2. Balls belts Flashman’s flunkey

Budget month is always busy for shadow chancellors. There are set-piece speeches, press conferences and all manner of interviews to be given.  But Ed Ball’s contribution to goal of the month is not one of these major media events.

Instead, it’s a short exchange with Matthew Hancock, the new Tory MP for West Suffolk, during the little-watched budget debate in the House of Commons. Matthew Hancock used to be George Osborne’s chief of staff before the last election and to all intents and purposes, still performs the same role. He has a sizeable Commons operation for a new MP, employing members of staff from Osborne’s old office that weren’t able to get berths as special advisers. In a resounding vote of no-confidence in Conservative HQ, it’s this Parliament-based team that provides Osborne’s political attack operation.

Part of their strategy is for Hancock, every inch Flashman’s flunkey, to jump up and down regularly in the chamber to intervene on Balls and try to put him off his stride.

At the budget debate, team Balls were waiting. While the exchange didn’t make any of the news reports, it colourfully demonstrates Balls’ robust strengths and why the Tories particularly fear and dislike him.

Balls gives a lesson in why new boys should be careful which bit of the playground they play in. The expression on Hancock’s face as Balls is in full flow is a picture that embodies the phrase: “shit-eating grin”.

3. Cooper and the case of the retiring coppers

Following on from her media hit in February on cuts to frontline police numbers, Yvette Cooper landed yet another big police cuts story in late March.

This time she revealed how, despite the fact police officers cannot be made redundant, a little known pension regulation was going to be used to compulsorily retire over 2000 police officers to save money.

There were three salient qualities to this story.

First, it once again demonstrated to the rest of the shadow cabinet how research can be turned into column inches. Second, it was a case study in how to find a new angle on the core message about cuts to frontline services. And third it sent a message to the home office and their civil servants on the level of ongoing scrutiny that they will face.

Within government, the impact of the story, coming so soon after the first police cuts story, will have been to heighten sensitivity and caution at all levels. It will amplify the worst elements of civil service timidity that slow decision-making to a crawl.

It’s early in the Parliament, and Theresa May has been comparatively unscathed – certainly compared to the likes of Gove, Fox and Lansley. But the home office hasn’t been miraculously reformed by the change of government. Constant pressure through stories like this will have an impact. It’s just a matter of time.

4. Healey’s £1bn health hit on Cameron

Health is front and centre in the political debate. It’s what defined David Cameron as a new kind of Conservative, and is the issue which can reveal him to be one of the same old Tories.

Lansley’s health reforms have stirred the hornet’s nest and are running down the Tories’ political capital. But the key for Labour is to prove David Cameron’s culpability.

John Healey’s goal of the month was to work through the fine print of the budget and call Cameron on breaking his commitment to increase spending on the NHS in real terms. The story of the £1bn cut in NHS budgets to 2015 went wall to wall across print and broadcast media.

Unlike the complexity of the health reforms, increasing or cutting spending is a simple binary choice. Unlike other cuts, it’s something that the Tories explicitly said they wouldn’t do – over and over again.

The story is readily understandable by the public and in the case of the NHS, particularly tied to Cameron.

Beyond the coverage in the days following the news release, it’s the type of clear figure which can be used repeatedly to define Cameron. A £1bn broken promise on the NHS offers similar potential to the 22 Tory tax rises before 1997.

5. Jim Murphy’s urgent questions

Jim Murphy is blessed with a baritone that instantly makes command of the House of Commons chamber easier. Combined with his natural debating ability, he is a formidable despatch box opponent.

But it is neither of these traits that make his goal of the month remarkable.

Instead, it is the simple truth of what he says. Three times in seven weeks, defence ministers were dragged back to the despatch box by urgent questions to account for their handling of armed forces redundancies.

Not even Michael Gove has managed that number of urgent questions so close together. It puts Liam Fox in a league of his own for bungling.

But, for ministers, it would have been all too easy to get off the hook.

Only because Murphy knows his way round parliamentary procedure and has reacted quickly to MoD gaffes has he been able to use urgent questions to hold ministers to account in this way.

And only because he is an accomplished media operator has he been able to re-focus stories that might have just been about a about a blundering department into more political questions of ministerial competence.

Murphy’s joined-up approach to parliamentary and media action gives an example of what can be achieved when shadow cabinet members combine action at the despatch box with press releases to the media. The pressure he has exerted is one of the main reasons why the decisions made so recently at the spending review are so close to being fundamentally unpicked at defence.

So there they are – the five choices. Each different but all showing qualities the party needs. Click on the links below to vote for your champion and send a message back to the shadow cabinet on what the Uncut community likes, and what you want to see more of.

You’ll see the latest results when you vote and the final results will be on the site on Sunday evening.

The clue’s in the title and we’ll be having another competition next month. In the meantime if spinners want to give us a heads up on the great things their bosses are doing, get in touch. Similarly, if the Uncut public witness a moment of shadow cabinet magic, let us know.

Until then, happy voting.

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3 Responses to “Uncut presents the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition”

  1. Jacquie R says:

    Cannot in all conscience start voting for the shadow cabinet’s goal of the month until it rectifies its own goal. Despite all the arguments and everything we know about News International, the Labour front bench persists in saying that the phone-hacking affair is entirely separate from the BSkyB takeover. This is completely wrong and is making it extremely easy for Jeremy Hunt to allow the takeover to go ahead.

    There’s still time to follow John Prescott’s lead and say and do the right thing for the party and the country. Please.

  2. Mark Allen says:

    Has to be Ed Balls annihilation of my own MP Matt Hancock.. MH thought he was being so smug but his face was just a picture as EB gets into full swing…Remember watching it live and had to rewind the skybox and get the wife in to watch…Car crash tv for the tories….

  3. AmberStar says:

    I voted for Ed but there’s nothing here to match the ‘kickings’ that Andy Burnham gave Lansley & Maude. It’s a real shame he was moved from Health. John Healey simply doesn’t have Andy Burnham’s style.

    Quite frankly, despite what you say, nobody cares about the £1bn cut compared to the potential disaster of the health bill; & the £bns that will be squandered implementing it then clearing up the mess afterwards.

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