What are the reshuffle risks for Ed?

What are the reshuffle risks for Ed?

Henry G runs the rule over a possible Labour frontbench shake-up

With rumours of an imminent Labour Shadow Cabinet reshuffle it’s worth examining the opportunities and risks for Labour. Ed Miliband is in a stronger position to dispense patronage than previous Labour leaders in Opposition now he has the ability to appoint who he wishes from the full ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party. With this freedom comes added risks and the likelihood of net disappointment for many MPs.

Reshuffles are more often than not a sign of weakness than strength. A sudden resignation or the dawning realisation that your team is just not quite up to it is far more common than the thrill of cracking the whip. It is not a good thing that the Labour leader is looking to reshuffle before David Cameron. After all Labour does not have the wear and tear of trying to get legislation through a coalition or have the intensity of ministerial office. This reshuffle is an attempt to jump-start the Opposition but also to bloster the position of the leader. Like Thatcher he inherited a Shadow Cabinet not of his choosing. But no leader has complete freedom and instead has to balance factions, promote talent, reward loyalty and somehow leave hope for others overlooked. That’s the challenge facing Ed this week.

One feature of the new Labour Party rule book is that the leader no longer has a gender quota to meet within his appointments. Despite that, Miliband is likely to fulfil previous commitments and take the number of women Shadow Cabinet ministers from a third to around a half. This will mean some eye-catching fast-tracking of talented women. Rachel Reeves’ name has been mentioned most along with Stella Creasy and Emma Reynolds who are expected to move through the ranks. These are hard-headed women from the centre-right of the party and should be balanced by Kate Green and Lisa Nandy from the soft left in portfolios relating to their pre-parliamentary experience.

The leadership has however made a mistake with extensive briefing that the promotion of Labour women would ‘show up’ how unrepresentative the Conservatives are. That may be a political bonus, but it should never be the primary reason. To build an alternative government in waiting you have to explain that these are the best people with the best ideas to take the country forward. And that’s it.

The realisation among male MPs (who are still in the distinct majority of the PLP) that they will have to work considerably harder to make it into the Shadow Cabinet may reflect some kind of gender justice, but it will also increase the levels of disgruntlement. Among the newly elected crop of men that merit promotion is Toby Perkins who is one of the stand-out performers among the younger men. His questions are crafty and he has self-assurance well beyond his years. He’s one to have in the trenches with you. Chris Williamson at junior Shadow Minister at Communities and Local Government certainly merits a bigger brief. His experience in local government means that at a time of significant cuts he’d be likely to perform well in Caroline Flint’s current role.

Among the existing ‘big names’ John Healey is tipped to go from health. Healey finished 2nd in last year’s Shadow Cabinet elections but is a classic example of someone who was quite good in government and superb in the tearoom but disappointing in the role as Shadow Minister. Rosie Winterton can’t even control her own whips, never mind her backbenchers. Hurriedly appointed on the grounds that ‘she wasn’t Nick Brown’, she desperately needs to be replaced. Ivan Lewis and Shaun Woodward are both dead men walking and few will mourn or notice their demise. The continued absence of David Miliband casts a shadow.

This won’t be a straightforward process for Ed Miliband. I’ve never met an MP who doesn’t believe they couldn’t improve on their colleagues and rivals’ best efforts. Many have elaborate theories why their talent and unique take on the world has been overlooked. The best Ed Miliband should do is giving the more promising younger crop of MPs a chance to thrive while not snuffing out the hopes of others. But will it transform Labour’s fortunes? Unlikely. Especially when growing numbers believe the person that needs reshuffling the most is the leader himself.

HenryG Manson

Twitter @henrygmanson

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