Friday, 8 October 2010

The cabinet of Dr. Miliband!

I am still stunned from the announcement that Alan Johnson is to be Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. The only reason I can see for this is as a sop to the David Miliband supporters. The rumours were that Ed had offered David the Shadow Chancellor's position if he wanted it. Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls were considered to be vying for this job, and seemed untouchable. Both have solid economic backgrounds, and have impressed recently in this area.

Yet, Ed Miliband seems to have fluffed it. I hate having to say this, but it can only be a political appointment. I know Osborne isn't very impressive, but I can see champagne corks being popped in No.11 on hearing this news. With the greatest respect to Alan Johnson who in the main has been effective in his previous cabinet positions, he's not an economist. Being a 'safe pair of hands' is not a sufficient criterion for selecting your Chancellor when you have such an abundance of talent available it seems, frankly, stupid to not make use of it. On an economic front, Alan Johnson's best card was probably his view on the deficit. He has stated time and again that he supported the Alistair Darling plan, and as time goes on that plan is looking more and more sensible.

Other than that the only reasons I can see for doing it is as a sop to the David Miliband supporters, ten of whom got elected to the cabinet, but with the top four positions going to supporters of other candidates, Cooper, Healey and Balls, who supported Ed Balls, and Andy Burnham, he must have felt a David supporter should be in one of the big positions, and Johnson was the most substantial David Miliband supporter elected.

It does, however, mean that two big hitting former Cabinet ministers, are free to take on two of the best and most effective government ministers. Whether you agree with the reforms or not, Theresa May has so far been a pretty safe pair of hands at the Home Office, and Ed Balls is just the man to take her on over the reforms to the police that she envisages. I can imagine looking forward to Home Office questions, as two big beasts go toe to toe.

William Hague should be Prime Minister, if you have to have a Tory led government, then you want the best available. Unlike Conservatives, who seem unable to appreciate the abilities of others, something which will lead to them looking daft time and time again, I can recognise that Hague is supremely gifted, and has hitherto been a very good Foreign Secretary.

Yvette Cooper (my original pick for leader) is in the same position of being supremely gifted. It is disappointing that she will not be Chancellor, but this will give her a real opportunity to gain an international reputation, and to be honest, I don't see her and Hague disagreeing fundamentally on foreign policy. This will raise Yvette Cooper's profile considerably in the public eye, as the superb job she did at Work and pensions, in government and opposition, has been largely confined to the political spectrum.

When it comes to the lesser positions, Harriet Harman has been ill-served with International Development, as although an important portfolio, her performance as acting leader earned her a much higher profile position. Andy Burnham's moving to education is interesting, as health and education are both areas of high priority for the coalition to ruin...sorry reform. Perhaps it will come out over the next few days, but it is possible Andy Burnham was asked if he wanted to stay, or move to education, and wished to prove himself in a different portfolio.

On all the other appointments, we will just have to wait and see how they perform. Caroline Flint will want to do well at Communities, in order to prove she's not just 'window dressing,' and being up against Eric the red will give her ample opportunity. John Denham is very experienced, and will be a good foil for Cable at Business, whilst John Healey who rather surprisingly came second in the poll, has been thrown in at the deep end at health. Mind you, probably the most sensible decision was to tuck Liam Byrne away in the cabinet office, as his note on leaving office, a very bad joke, will follow him for some time.

So overall, has Ed Miliband passed his second test, taking into account the hand that was given him? A C is the best I can manage at the moment, with a re-mark up or down as an option depending on how he, and his appointees perform. It is very early days, and reasons will become clearer over the next few days, but I think the government will be a bit puzzled, but not exactly quaking in theri boots at the moment, and that Hague and May, will be looking forward to being severely tested.


  1. I really think that there's more than we're giving credit for to Johnson's appointment as Shadow Chancellor: given the fact that a very early poll made him Party member's choice for Leader (even after he had ruled himself out) there must be some confidence in his economic ability. Additionally Ed M has avoided another soap opera of "did he snub Balls by giving Cooper the Shadow Chancellorship?" and giving the media an opportunity to look for any sliver of difference between them. My guess is it may well be a short-term (two year) appointment to steer Labour through its response to the CSR and produce the beginnings of an alternative economic policy. After that I suspect Johnson will step aside and not seek re-election in 2015.

    With regard to some of the other posts, I think not moving Burnham would have been interpreted as a snub, and he provides an interesting counterfoil to Gove, as the "working-class lad" against the uber-public schoolboy, who just oozes old fashioned class superiority out of ever pore of his body.

    As for Harriet, there's been no mention (that I've seen at least) of a Shadow to Clegg, so I assume she's going to carry that on, but without the title of Shadow Deputy Prime Minister. Given that I forsee a full-scale assault later down the line on Labour's equality legislation, I think her position of Shadow Minister for Women will become more important.

    I have no doubt John Healey will be effective at Health; as I said earlier he was a superb Local Government Minister, effectively ending the brain-dead policy of Elected Mayors, which from personal experience are loathed by the wider electorate, and just create confusion and disillusionment with local politics.

    As we're in the business of grading, mine's a B+ (I think Hilary Benn is underused, Douglas Alexander over-promoted, and I'm not persuaded by Ivan Lewis at DCMS, as he's shown no interest in any of his portfolio).

  2. Sometimes I think we get dragged into the politics of the media rather than considering the tactics of opposition.

    Alan Johnson has had a solid career within the Commons and has several Ministerial jobs. I think everyone who is misjudging this man who will be a perfect foil to the feckless Osborne. We should not forget either that Ed Miliband has himself got a background in the Treasury alongside Balls and Cooper making this a formicable front bench opposition team.

    Ed has had a difficult task and it may well be that the Coalition think they are off the hook. If they are that complacent they will be in for a suprise.

    Let us keep our powder dry David and collectively get behind our team in Westminster -their job is tough enough.