Miliband versus Cameron? It’s all in the team they pick

by John Woodcock

By winning the right to pick his own shadow cabinet and using the reshuffle to exert his authority, Ed has rightly dispensed with generations of Labour tradition. The result is a refreshed, highly capable team that is hungry to take on the Tories and make the case to the British people that there is a credible alternative to this failing economic masochism.

By contrast, the weakness inherent in David Cameron’s reluctance to reshuffle his pack is shown to be more pronounced with every misdemeanour that goes unpunished. If the cabinet secretary’s report suggests Liam Fox has breached the ministerial code, today may finally be the day the dam bursts. But it is worth reflecting on how much the prime minister has let slide in the meantime:

  • The leaking of embarrassing private letters from Fox to Cameron is the kind of unfortunate incident that would have led to previous secretaries of state having their empire reduced. Yet his smiling denials provoke nothing more than dark muttering from Number Ten
  • Ken Clarke has been given a dressing down on more than one occasion for offences ranging from his soft sentencing policy to picking fights over cats. Yet he carries on regardless

  • Ministers such as Andrew Lansley and Caroline Spelman preside over Whitehall meltdowns but are not relieved of their command
  • Vince Cable acts like a complete pudding in the face of a Sunday Times honey trap, yet the disgracing of the business secretary is perversely thought to make Cameron’s grip on the reins of power stronger
  • And the charge list against Chris Huhne grows by the day. It is as if the energy secretary has accepted a frat boy dare where he must remain in his job despite making each new digression more comically flagrant than the last. It will be hard to top yesterday’s stunt of taking to the air waves to brazenly admit he had been briefing against a fellow cabinet member. The next breach may have to involve public nudity, or asking an associate to take the rap for him. Oh, wait.

Cameron’s problem is that the hubris about strong leadership, which ran through his conference speech, is simply not reflected in his actions as the head of an increasingly dysfunctional cabinet. The unwieldy truce between uneasy bedfellows in the coalition means that the positive effect of sacking or moving an underperformer so far has been outweighed by the headache that would result from trying to get a fresh cabinet that satisfies each side.

The consequence of this is not simply that the public sees the wrongdoing and incompetence of ministers going unpunished. Even more seriously than that, the lack of discipline imposed by the centre is directly contributing to a lack of focus from the governing parties on the one issue that is eclipsing everything else – the economic crisis.

Rather than ministers devoting all of their attention to devising a credible growth strategy that ends the current flat-lining, the weakness and insecurities at its heart are prompting each side to obsess about their own hobby horses. So instead of measures to tackle rising unemployment, lack of growth, spiralling debt and financial turmoil, all we hear from the Tory and Lib Dem conferences are the two extremes of a sideshow argument about the human rights act.

With each fresh outburst seeming less relevant than the last, the public are entitled to ask what on earth they are paying ministerial salaries for.

As the leadership vacuum in government grows and the economic outlook worsens, we know we need to force Labour’s credible alternative onto the agenda. Ministers can change the font and pretend it was their idea all along, but they need to take seriously Ed Balls’ five point plan to create jobs, help struggling families and help small firms.

As for a government reshuffle, here’s a bit of friendly advice from an opponent: you guys need to tool up. Because, let’s face it, in a treasury scrap, who would you rather had your back: Rachel Reeves or Danny Alexander?

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

Tags: , , ,

6 Responses to “Miliband versus Cameron? It’s all in the team they pick”

  1. swatantra says:

    I’m hoping that Chukka can bring more of a Compass Agenda to Biz like jobs, and help for SME’s, and training for the NEETS and Apprenticeships.
    And Twiggy bring more of a Progress Agenda to Education. Academies are here to stay. But he must speak out more forcibly against Free Schools and Faith Schools.
    And Andy miust work on definitive plans for a National Care Service.

    I’d rather have Rachael Reeves with her inside knowledge of Finance and the BoE.
    Alexander knows nothing.

  2. tokyo nambu says:

    ” It will be hard to top yesterday’s stunt of taking to the air waves to brazenly admit he had been briefing against a fellow cabinet member.”

    It’s a terrible crime: after all, senior Labour ministers never briefed against each other. Gordon Brown was appointed leader of the party unopposed, and had spent most of the previous ten years in disloyal briefing against the leader of the party. Why’s Huhne suddenly doing something so bad?

  3. Mick Williams says:

    “By winning the right to pick his own shadow cabinet and using the reshuffle to exert his authority, Ed has rightly dispensed with generations of Labour tradition.”

    “Winning” ? What were the terms of this contest ? I was never informed during last year’s leadership election that the winner would get all-powerful rights to determine the rules of the Party.

    “Exert his authority” ? Surely in any democratic organisation the only legitimate authority is that of the membership expressed in a ‘bottom-up’ process rather than a ‘top-down’ one. (Whatever happened to ‘consent’ ?)

    “Rightly” dispensed with generations of Labour tradition ? Whilst accepting that specific terms must change to reflect a changing world, the constant reference to Labour’s ‘values’ imply that these have not changed – nor should they.

    An entirely predictable article from a ‘spad’ and one of the reasons why 200,000 members left Labour during their 13-year abrogation of our values.

    (And my vote in the leadership election of last year went to Harry Perkins.)

  4. Chris says:

    I was actually agreeing with this until three consecutive words leapt off the screen at me – “Labour’s credible alternative.” It would be fine to talk about Labour’s alternative – the problem comes with the juxtapositn of “credible”.

    Labour is going to lack credibility until it can come up with a raison d’être that does not involve ever more borrowing and public spending.

    What is Labour for when there is no more money?

  5. Rob the crip says:

    never mind only four years to go then we will see……

  6. John says:

    Yeah, they will have a long time to ‘cut their teeth’, lets hope they use it well and /or get the chance ..
    RedEd gone by 2015 . . .

Leave a Reply