The shadow cabinet goal of the month competition

by Atul Hatwal

Readers pick from Balls, Burnham, Cooper, Creagh and Jowell for June’s title

After another month of shambolic Tory U-turns but without any perceptible Labour progress, both sides find themselves pretty much where they left off in May.

Although little has fundamentally changed in the electoral race, amidst the melee, there were some pointed moments from Labour.  The five contenders for the goal of the month are, in alphabetical order, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Tessa Jowell.

1. Balls doubles down on his plan for the deficit

The main Labour story in June was about Ed Miliband’s leadership. It sucked up so much media oxygen that a fundamental shift in Labour’s approach on the economy was largely over-shadowed.

On the 16th June, Ed Balls gave a speech at the LSE where he committed Labour to a multi-billion pound tax cut by temporarily reversing the VAT rise.

It’s a bold move. And the logic is clear. Poor economic figures and anaemic growth are pointing the way potentially to a Greek tragedy.

But it is a gamble.

The polls show persistent public mistrust of Labour on the finances. Many of Balls’ colleagues in the shadow cabinet are deeply uneasy or opposed.  And the Tories now have a new £51bn spending black-hole attack-line on Labour.

If the cuts aren’t terminal and the UK economy does recover, even slowly, then the cost of the gamble in terms of public confidence in Labour’s economic competence will be high.

If the economy does sink into years of coma and the government is driven to take measures to jump-start growth, Balls will assume St.Vincent of Twickenham’s  title as politics’ economic sage.

What is not in doubt is that this is defining moment for Labour.

2. Andy Burnham teaches the Dept forEducation to count

Each month brings another gaffe from the Department for Education. In June it was slipshod accounting with serial over-payments to Academies.

Burnham’s delivery combines his usual eloquence and authenticity. But it is the substance of his point that is most striking.

Without proper accounting, the whole cuts programme is purely an academic exercise. Plans will remain just that, completely disconnected from reality.  It’s a systemic flaw in the way the department for Education operates which will generate several more urgent questions in the future.

Although Burnham is palpably frustrated with the department’s incompetence and Gove’s insouciance in not even bothering to attend proceedings, he is laying important groundwork.

Each time an urgent question lands, a little more credibility ebbs away from the Department.  In the end, a tipping point will be reached and the state of constant political meltdown which engulfed the Home Office in the last Labour government will come to Education.

It’s just a matter of time.

3. Cooper mauls Mensch

In June, Labour used one of its opposition day debates in the House of Commons to highlight the impact of the government’s policies on women. Yvette Cooper led for Labour and at the heart of the discussion was child benefit.

The Tory defence on cuts to child benefit for women in households where one of the earners is a top-rate tax-payer has always been tricky.

Their best line is when they talk in terms of better-off families making a larger contribution to paying down the deficit.  The content centres on the shared national goal of deficit reduction and the tone is emollient.

Their worst defence is when the argument focuses solely on the injustice of the rich not paying their fair share.  In the context of a cuts programme that is hitting the most vulnerable hardest, a Tory making this case is somewhere between incongruous and laughable.

Enter Louise Mensch, class warrior.

As befits someone whose primary experience is chick-lit rather politics, Mensch demonstrates a tin ear in the pitch of her attack.

Cooper’s response is a mix of measured anger and assured command of the facts. The result is similar to a teenager being upbraided by a grown-up.

The expression on Mensch’s face is probably one her parents know all too well.

4. Mary Creagh’s circus success

Yesterday there was a parliamentary vote on a backbench motion on whether animals should be banned from circuses.

Despite the government’s best efforts, the cross-party motion passed. Central to the victory was the Labour party’s campaign on this issue.

It all began when Mary Creagh put down an urgent question in May, drawing attention to the government’s ridiculous position that animals can’t be banned from circuses because of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, hundreds of letters have been sent to MPs as part of a national drive that has had Labour at its core. On the party website alone, there have been over 3000 public pledges of support and commitments to action.

The circus campaign has been more successful than previous initiatives on reversing the VAT rise on fuel, stopping cuts to frontline policing and protecting pensions for armed forces veterans.

The only Party campaign that has attracted more support is focused on protecting frontline services in the NHS.

It reminds us, that more than ever that animals remain big political business in Britain.

In the 1990s, more people marched to ban veal crates than ever did for the unemployed. And lest we forget, the League Against Cruel Sports donated £1m to a party committed to scrapping fox-hunting.

The political success of Mary Creagh’s circus campaign has been to begin the process of reconnecting Labour with animal rights and that tranche of society who will tirelessly write letters, knock doors and donate in their defence.

5. Jowel shoots, Hurd misses

This exchange from Cabinet Office questions provides one of those rare ‘did that just happen moments’.

Tessa Jowell, who has been rejuvenated since stepping up to shadow Francis Maude, pitches a well-researched but fairly standard question on the outlandish claims made by Ministers about the savings to be made as a result of the public bodies bill.

The response takes a couple of viewings to sink in.

It’s the sort of question that should be a simple matter to parry for a Minister. But Nick Hurd lets it fly past into the net.

He doesn’t offer any response to the charge the government’s claims of £30bn savings to protect frontline services were in fact made up of £25bn cuts to frontline services. He doesn’t deny the scale of cuts to housing and education.  He doesn’t try and rebut anything.

Instead Hurd just chooses to read from his briefing note.

Nick Hurd is often talked of as a leadership material by the Tories. But on this showing he is more likely to be one of those Ministers subsumed by the civil service, neutered of his politics and a spokesperson for the mandarin party.

Good for Jowell. Bad for the government.

Maybe Hurd is just a touch to much a chip off the old block.

There they are, the five contenders for goal of the month. It’s now down to the Uncut public to rate them. May’s competition saw a knife edge vote with John Denham pipping Ed Balls in the last hour of voting. Will June go down to the wire as well? Or will one of the contenders run away with it?

It’s your choice.

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One Response to “The shadow cabinet goal of the month competition”

  1. Just to correct a statement you made on number 4

    You mention the League Against Cruel Sports gave a million pound to Labour. This is not actually correct. It was PAL the political animal lobby which is separate to LACS and is an international political lobby.

    The money given was an excellent donation and served to help bolster the issue of animal welfare across Labour’s parliamentary party in the run up to the 1997 election. Labour is the natural home for animal welfare issues as the largest number of MPs who support animal welfare issues is that of Labour.

    Animal welfare is a vital to the well being of the nation, a society based on decency for animals means more support for people. It’s more than clear that our wildlife and animals are never safe with a Tory Government. Their obsession with vile bloodsport is a prime example yet it’s never just our poor foxes, deer and hares they seek to persecute and kill cruelly.

    Be it badgers or chickens, circus animals to lab animal wherever there is a vested interest or ignorant attitude you can bet the Tories will back it over that of the views of the majority of the public. Decency does not exist with the Tories as to them animals are either to be killed for fun or abused to ensure profit.

    If you or any other Labour member or supporter would like to help further the course of animal welfare in the Labour Party then we can help. We are a pro Labour Political Animal Lobby, we go by the name Fox in Parliament, we are also known as Support the Hunting Act (Ban) UK

    To make contact follow the web link or find us on Twitter under Foxinparliament

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