The new Labour shadow cabinet

Guy Aitchison
8 October 2010

The new shadow cabinet was announced by Ed Miliband this morning following some pretty swift decision-making. It's listed here in full.

My first reaction is that New Labour is very much alive and well at the top of the party. It doesn't much resemble the "new generation" Ed proclaims it to be with 11 of the 19 Cabinet ministers under Brown and the other 8 all previously ministers or junior ministers.

Sunder Katwala, of the Fabians, tweeted that the principal effect of these appointments is to consolidate outreach to David Miliband, with Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor, Andy Burnham as election co-ordinator and Liam Byrne shadowing the Cabinet Office minister.

Ed M is trying to maintain a broad coalition. But the appointment of Johnson as shadow chancellor is already dividing Labourites. He is known to favour Alistair Darling's more hawkish approach to the deficit having cautioned against softening Labour's plans to halve the deficit within four years during the leadership campaign.

They [the public] want to be absolutely clear that we are taking a sensible approach to this. They don't want to see the deficit go on forever...I think the reason why they took to the coalition is they thought, well, here's someone rolling their sleeves up and getting down to the job.

By "the job", of course, Johnson refers to the massive spending cuts being enacted by the coalition and his remarks rather imply that he has bought the line emanating from Cameron and Clegg that "there is no alternative" to large-scale cuts to public services. The alternative Keynsian approach, set out by Balls during his Bloomberg speech, which emphasises economic growth, protecting jobs and a more equitable balance of taxation and spending cuts, is presumably what Johnson considers to be not "credible".

Ed M himself has been keeping his cards close to his chest so far, having said that he regards Darling's approach as a "starting point". I think Will Straw is being over-hasty when he hails Johnson's appointment as a straight-forward victory for the more hawkish approach. For sure, the appointment of Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper to shadow George Osborne, would have signalled Ed M is preparing a vigorous opposition to the depth and speed of the cuts. As it is, we still don't know. Don Paskini points out that Johnson will have to adopt whatever Ed's views are on the economy having left himself just enough "wriggle room" not to contradict himself.

The appointments are, in many ways, as Seph Brown describes them, a victory of "strategy over ideology", with Ed M keen to derail the "lurch to the left" narrative of the media. He needs to be careful, however, that an obsession with "strategy" doesn't lead him to triangulation setting him down the path his predecessors took of subordinating the pursuit of social justice to the demands of the right-wing press. He still has the opportunity to stake out an alternative approach on society and the economy and move the terrain of debate in his favour, as he promised to do during his campaign.

Balls has been given the shadow home secretary role, shadowing Theresa May. As the man responsible for the dreadful vetting and barring scheme as children's minister (now mercifully killed off by the coalition) he has always struck me as one of those authoritarian wannabe "hard-men" at the top of New Labour. His voting record shows he was a supporter of ID cards, 90 days detention, and all the rest of the last government's draconian anti-terror laws and his urge will be to tack to the right on immigration, as he did during his leadership campaign.

Given the pitiful absence of liberals in the mix, though, we may just have to be grateful that the role didn't fall to Alan Johnson who goaded the Coalition back in June for being "obsessed" with civil liberties, accusing it of being the "political wing of Liberty". And there are some small, and surprising, glimmers of liberalism from Balls who, as the Guardian's Alan Travis pointed out to me on Twitter, is against ASBOs and for a welfare approach to youth justice.  

Sadiq Khan is shadow secretary of state for justice. He will shadow Ken Clarke on criminal justice and Nick Clegg on political and constitutional reform. This is a big promotion for the former transport minister who supported Ed M during the campaign. Khan is a human rights lawyer with a background as a civil liberties campaigner, so there's hope that he will work constructively with the Coalition on the Great Repeal Bill rather than adopting a knee-jerk opposition approach. Having said that, New Labour ministers such as Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, all worked for Liberty in the past, so who knows! 


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