Shadow cabinet league: Khan remains the boss

by Alan Smithee

This column returns, bronzed with liver aching, from a brief absence. Thankfully, the shadow cabinet has not taken a similar sojourn. As we enter the New Politics™ era, the shadow cabinet remains important to delivering a Labour victory in 2015 and harrying the coalition in the meantime.

Two MPs have established a commanding lead at the top of the table. Sadiq Khan and Chris Leslie have consistently performed well. Khan has excellent in consistent reactive media work and producing a gargantuan amount of written question. His continued focus on Oakwood Prison and the disturbance in January shows a commitment to scrutiny rather than questions based on cynical opportunism.

Leslie, who does the donkey work in the Treasury team, has produced similar levels of questions and has been able to generate a number of attacks on the Government.  His speech on the zero-base review helped flesh out Labour’s pledge, key for offering fiscal credibility.

Shad Cab table 2013-02-28

Behind the leaders come the trio of Hilary Benn, Caroline Flint and Yvette Cooper. Benn’s rise to third has been based on a being the most successful shadow minister in terms of proactive story generation, embarrassing Pickles on a range of issues.  Even with the pressure of his father’s illness in February, Benn managed 5 proactively generated stories – more than anyone else in the shadow cabinet.

Cooper’s continued success has relied upon strong media work in a tough battle with May’s populism. In contrast, Flint has used a broader strategy which has focussed far more on the energy side of her brief. Despite being gazumped on occasion by Ed, she has pursued government and energy companies with relentless energy and vigour.

A little further back, separated by only 13 points, you find Rachel Reeves, Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle, Mary Creagh, Chuka Umunna and Vernon Coaker. Eagle and Creagh ascended into the top ten in February on the back of being the two main briefs related to flooding; the length of time in which the story dominated the media offered ample opportunity for public scrutiny of the government. Of the three mainstays, Reeves and Burnham relied heavily on media comment, whilst Umunna used many more written questions.

Slipping behind the top ten are Tristram Hunt and Jim Murphy. Hunt made hay with the Sally Morgan sacking and has continued on issues with the free schools programme. However,his work on written questions and proactive story generation has slackened in recent months after a promising start. Murphy’s lack of media work in February helped induce his slump. International development is a key part of our party’s mission, even if people sneered at Murphy’s “demotion” to the role, and he should look to push imaginative policy ideas to meet the new global landscape.

Just behind Murphy and Hunt, lie Douglas Alexander, Gloria de Piero and Michael Dugher. Douglas Alexander remains stuck in the bottom half of the table, mainly due to a dearth of written questions. His book on future foreign policy is essential reading but one feels more could have been done to hit the Tories over Europe. Dugher has continued his run putting out solid stories focusing on Tory donors and incompetence; both are useful sticks for hitting them with. De Piero continues to grow into her new role, working the media well. The presence of International Women’s Day in March should mean she will likely rise up the rankings in the next monthly table.

Languishing near the bottom is the shadow chancellor. As commented before, Balls leaves a lot of the heavy lifting to his deputy Leslie and focuses more on non-parliamentary activity, mainly TV and radio.

However, with the Budget having taken place, we should see a pick-up in the next table. Joining him is our dear deputy leader. Maria Miller who is, frankly, poor is there for the taking but Harman has not successfully landed many blows.  That said,the tail end of February was spent locked in combat with the Daily Mail over allegations surrounding the Paedophile Information Exchange, so it is perhaps understandable that she was less able to make progress on the day job.

As ever, the regional roles score low due the nature of devolution. Ivan Lewis, however, has had an interesting two months, book-ended by the Haas talks and the John Downey case. He has played a critically supportive role with the government across NI issues, which is to be commended. Ditto, Angela Eagle whose job does not allow for major scrutiny activity or media stories.

Like a lost old Soviet nuclear sub, Jon Trickett  finally surfaced in February. A Labourlist article produced and party reforms passed, we can assume that Jon will return to scoring nil-pwa soon.

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