Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over necessity


3:44 pm - October 8th 2010

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contribution by Seph Brown

Basically it fell like this.

Who are the heavy-hitters Ed has left to work with for the big 3 jobs?

a) Ed Balls: Played an excellent anti-Tory, anti-cuts role in the leadership election. People realised they actually quite liked him.
b) Yvette Cooper: Excellent at DWP, clear grasp of economics, excellent female candidate.
c) Alan Johnson: Big experience, personable, steady hand.

So everyone is a little bit shocked at how it turned out, but it seems to make perfect sense to me.

a) Balls could not be Shadow Chancellor because Miliband knows that would be painted as a ‘lurch to the left’ with ‘deficit denial’ etc etc But he has been shown to be devastating when it comes to pinpointing and bringing cuts to life for ordinary people.

b) Cooper could not be Shadow Chancellor for the same reason David Miliband was right to step back – The next 5 years would be stalked by the husband-wife power struggle and probably barefaced sexism: “What does your husband say about this Yvette?” and so on.

c) Johnson could not remain in Home Office since Ed was so strident during his election in rejecting a lot of the questionable (at best) civil liberties positions Johnson has taken in the past. Likewise, Johnson will act as a unifier for the wounded Blairites.

The result: Balls in Home, Cooper in FCO, Johnson as Shadow Chancellor.

Effectively what happened was the victory of political strategy over ideological positioning. In other words, Miliband was hamstrung by political perception and the media rather than going with what might have been more sensible choices in terms of experience and knowhow (not to mention willingness).

His ‘lurch to the left’ has certainly been derailed by putting Johnson where he is, but it also means that Labour will likely find it difficult to move the debate around cuts in a different, more progressive, direction. Hopefully Miliband will guide Johnson on this. He has certainly shown his ability to lead so far.

All in all I support what he has done. Balls is going to be excellent against May in the Home Office. It will be a pleasure to watch him take on the cuts in policing, but I do have a niggling fear he may ‘do a Johnson’ – to coin a phrase – and lurch to the right; especially on immigration.

I’m not so sure about Yvette in the FCO. I do not know where her foreign policy lies or whether she will be willing to lead Labour in a new direction as Miliband has indicated, but she will get to grips with it very quickly.

The big three in the shadow cabinet are certainly the epitome of how strategy beat politics, but as time goes on the party will realise that Miliband has made some very shrewd decisions indeed.

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Reader comments


Interesting, though the post does rather smack of being wise after the event. You write as though it was always obvious that Ed Miliband would have to square the particular circle of how to deal with these particular three. But that’s just not what anyone thought or said before this afternoon. The issue of what to do with Johnson wasn’t on the radar. And I don’t think anyone would have regarded it as a conundrum if he had been thought of – arguably, he’s one of the easiest to place, because he’s a good all-rounder.

As to the idea that Ed Miliband really wanted Balls for Shad Chanc, but didn’t feel he could get away with it: this relies on the assumption that he really did sympathise with Balls in the first place. But arguably that was always just wishful thinking from Sunny and others. Ed Miliband was throughout the contest very vague on the deficit. He didn’t really go any further than saying he regarded the Darling plan as a ‘starting point’ (to what?). And his leader’s speech stressed that he would not oppose cuts. Ed Miliband has chosen a more centrist route on the deficit. And that’s the astute thing to do – hem the Tories in on the right. The idea that Labour should unilaterally move left and leave the field free for the Tories was always unwise IMO.

“Balls … Yvette … Johnson”

I see the habit of referring to male politicians by surname and female politicians by first name is alive and well.

[deleted]

@ Soho Politico – Hold my hands up on being ‘wise after the event.’ Not claiming to have called it (I certainly didn’t – aside from *wanting* Ed Balls to get the Home Office brief). But after the initial surprise it certainly fell in place as making a great deal of sense to me.

@ cim – I didn’t do it every time but it did occur to me! I will play the ‘Surrey upbringing card’ on this one. I have changed the article on my site.

Putting Johnson in as shadow chancellor now also leaves Ed’s options open since in two years time Johnson could gracefully announce his retirement from front-line politics or that he will stand down as an MP at the next general election (presumably to be rewarded as Lord Johnson) leaving the way clear for David Miliband to return (if he decides to do so) or for EdM to reward EdB or YvetteC with the shadow chancellor job.

But that’s just not what anyone thought or said before this afternoon. The issue of what to do with Johnson wasn’t on the radar.

This it was always on the cards, but AJ was assumed to go back to the home office brief I think.

It makes sense, what Seph says above, but I still don’t like it. AJ isn’t very big on economic matters and we need someone who can talk that language with ease.

I don’t want to be cynical but it seems to me that he is wary of Balls and giving Cooper the job would’ve made this even worse. I went to a talk by Anthony Seldon on Gordon Brown’s time in No.10 yesterday and he said that Ed M and Balls really didn’t get on anymore. I dunno if that’s true.

My mum mentioned Alan Johnson as potential shadow chancellor! on the grounds that he’s one of the very few people in top politics to have had a normal job..
personally my precise reaction when hearing the news was “WTF?” but on reflection it seems like a good decision by Ed.

Alan Johnson admitted he didn’t have the skills to be leader. Does he have the skills to be Shadow Chancellor though?

10. Stuart White

I can’t see that putting Ed Balls at the Home Office augurs well for Labour’s progress on civil liberties….

I can see why he chose Johnson, and i agree that it was probably politicaly shrewd to do so, but i still think on balance Cooper would have been a better choice. Unfortunately the Balls economic policy clearly applies to Mr and Mrs, which is a shame, as i think a better foil to Osborne there never will be.

So according to this article:

1) Ed M’s scared of right-wing papers ranting about a lurch to the Left, so chucks in an economic novice as Shadow Chancellor. So now your economic policy will be less progressive, but don’t worry, because Ed Milliband will show AJ the way, like a dad teaching his son how to ride a bicycle.

2) Ed M’s scared of right-wing papers being sexist, and instead of trusting the British public to ignore such nonsense, he ferrets Cooper away to the Foreign Office where no-one will notice as she discusses the finer points of helicopter numbers in Afghanistan with William Hague

3) Ed M needs somewhere to fit Ed Balls in, so throw him the Home Office so he can use his attack-dog style to rip Theresa May apart over… erm… scrapping ID cards, while possibly keeping Labour to the illiberal Right on home affairs when even the Tories have abandoned this

“Miliband was hamstrung by political perception and the media rather than going with what might have been more sensible choices in terms of experience and knowhow”

In other words, Ed M ignored such trifling matters as experience and expertise in favour of spinning for the benefit of the right-wing press.

And you think this is something positive?

I’ll get your coat.

13. Chris Baldwin

Surely the logical choice was:

Balls – Chancellor
Cooper – Home
Johnson – Foreign

Good politician though AJ is, he’s clearly the worst choice for the Treasury. I expect he’ll still do better than Osborne, though.

14. Stuart White

Responding to my own comment @ 10: Guy Aitchison at OurKingdom detects some ‘surprising glimmers of liberalism’ in Balls:

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/guy-aitchison/new-shadow-cabinet

Cooper was great at the DWP from who-m’s point of view, not the disabled I can assure you.

Ed Balls: Played an excellent anti-Tory, anti-cuts role in the leadership election. People realised they actually quite liked him.

Ha ha ha ha. You are joking, right.

Yvette Cooper: Excellent at DWP, clear grasp of economics, excellent female candidate.

Sexist comment of the week.

Alan Johnson: Big experience, personable, steady hand.

But, by your own implication, likely to be entirely out of his intellectual depth.

From the cards he was dealt, Cooper was the right choice for Shadow Chancellor.

Cheers cim and pagar. The whole article is a treasure trove of sexism.

I find the appointments bizarre and this article seems to be a half-hearted attempt to convince us of their wisdom. For a start Balls was hardly liberal in office, enthusiastically supporting ID cards as well as illiberal policies as Education Sec. Does Miliband expect him to suddenly go all liberal now, admit he was wrong and still be able to stand up to May? Cooper in the FO is just an astonishing waste and Johnson as Chancellor, well, I’m willing to be open minded. I suppose he did well at Health and he’s hardly up against an intellectual titan. I just hope he can find some good advisers.

To me these appointments suggest that Miliband is more worried about his colleagues than the Government. This is all about securing his own position against internal rebellion, and that worries me.

Ed Miliband’s appointment of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor-what a stupid, illogical appointment. AJ should be shadow Home Secretary, Ed Balls should be shadow chancellor. AJ has no training in economics nor does he have any experience in the Treasury. It is a waste of Ed Balls’ talent to deny him the shadow chancellorship.

The path is now clear for George Osborne to attack Alan as a lightweight who doesn’t understand the finer points of technical economic detail.

EdM ascends even further in my estimation.

The blunt fact is that Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are both carrying far too much political baggage to be the shadow chancellor at this stage. They make easy targets.

Alan Johnson has had little education in academic economics but then EdM isn’t short on economics nous himself. AJ was a known supporter of DM in the leadership election and DM endorsed Alistair Darling’s prescription for dealing with the budget deficit. Ergo, AJ is much less vulnerable.

“The path is now clear for George Osborne to attack Alan as a lightweight who doesn’t understand the finer points of technical economic detail.”

He won’t be able to do that without sounding like an absolute dick, and implicitly insulting a vast swathe of the country (whose backgrounds, education, etc. are like Johnson) in the process. That is one of the many things that is good about this appointment. Johnson at the dispatch box will sound like he is interrogating/criticising Osborne from the perspective of the man in the street.

In other words, Ed M ignored such trifling matters as experience and expertise in favour of spinning for the benefit of the right-wing press.

It’s not entirely a bad characterisation, but sometimes the politics of the issue matters more than the necessity.

For now, the shadow cabinet will follow the line laid down by Ed M anyway.

There’s no chance of Ed Balls talking up ID cards or 90 days, Yvette Cooper too stuck to the script and said Iraq was a bad idea.

Making AJ chancellor wasn’t ideal, but it’s not the worst choice. Or at least, it’s too early to say. People underestimate the extent to which Ed M will dictate policy, and on that I’m quite happy for now.

I will of course oppose any lurch to the right and embracing Darling’s plans 🙂

I’d add my own comment but Chakrobbty’s tweet says it all: “Remember that classic Alan Johnson speech when he deftly opposed the Osborne line on the deficit and showed off a knowledge of Keynes? No? ”
Ed Balls Bloomberg speech was magnificent. Alan Johnson won’t be. Never been near the Treasury and somehow he’s going to face down Osborne over the CSR. Nothing in his record to suggest this will work. And that’s before we get on to his appalling treatment of Nutt as home sec.

Mr S Pill mentions politicians who have done real jobs. Jim Murphy apparently gets Defence – he’s never done a real job. Various people have praised him and his claimed talents. Just because people say such thing doesn’t make them true. Murphy has done nothing at all to win such plaudits. Henry Porter absolutely skewered his antics in the last parliament – attempts to bypass parliament in the cause of lighter business regulation. Unforgiveable in a Labour politician.

Couldn’t have put it better myself, Chaminda. Never underestimate Labour’s capacity to allow the right to set the terms of debate, and to accept frames of reference dictated by the right, or by power generally. God forbid that, even when the right is manifestly, disastrously and dangerously wrong – as it is over deficit-hysteria – that Labour might think to grow a spine, present the correct argument, and make the effort to persuade people that the conventional wisdom is misconceived. Well f*ck it. Why bother? Its only people’s livelihoods at stake.

When the tabloid media start screeching about a “lurch to the left” on the grounds that Ed Miliband is tentatively moving towards mild European style social democracy, and because Balls is lining up with such dangerous Trots as Martin Wolf, Joe Stiglitz, David Blanchflower, Samuel Brittain, Paul Krugman and Robert Skidelsky, the correct response is to fall about laughing, and to point out the rank stupidity of the accusation. It is not to say “yes Mr Dacre, yes Mr Murdoch, how can we achieve credibility in your eyes? What would you have us do?”

By my reckoning, Ed Miliband’s bold challenge to the Blairite comfort zone lasted all of 10 days. My only real disappoinment is that this miserable excuse for a “centre-left” party still retains the capacity to disappoint me. I should be beyond even the most modest of expectations by now. There was nothing leftist about Balls approach. It was just basic economic sanity. And Miliband has allowed himself to be bullied away from it. A very inauspicious start.

25. TuringMachine

So, the new Shadow Chancellor’s first move will be to “pick up a primer in economics for beginners.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11499638

Apparently the poor bloke feels he’s “chucked in at the deep end.”

Not sure whether my favourite thing about these remarks is that they’re absolutely true or the way it shows how Al is really taking things seriously. Clueless twat.

Another brilliant, if less well publicised, appointment was Maria Eagle for Transport. Now, apart from the fact that there’s no indication that she knows anything at all about transport, she voted for McKean’s bill to make Patliament exempt from FOI legislation. You remember, don’t you? The bill that would have stopped us finding out about MP’s expenses?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5336468/Maria-Eagle-bathroom-renovated-on-expenses-before-flat-was-flipped.html

@24: “and because Balls is lining up with such dangerous Trots as Martin Wolf, Joe Stiglitz, David Blanchflower, Samuel Brittain, Paul Krugman and Robert Skidelsky,”

The trouble is that Ed Balls has other political baggage besides urging caution in the rate at which the government is cutting back public spending because of the risks of an economy in stagnation or a deflationary spiral – as have Martin Wolf, Sam Brittan and the rest mentioned.

From the headline in Thursday FT, it seems that for all George Osborne’s heady rhetoric, HM Treasury has already taken that message on board: Move to delay UK spending cuts

“The Treasury is working on plans to ‘reprofile’ spending cuts next April, spreading the pain of deficit reduction more evenly over the next few years, senior Whitehall officials have told the Financial Times.”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6d914844-d18a-11df-96d1-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=rss

It’s very regretable but the average reader of the mainstream press doesn’t read what Martin Wolf and the others write and very likely hasn’t even a clue as to who the hell they are anyway.

What matters in this context is how well Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor comes across in the tabloid press and the broadcast media. EdM has enough economics nous to judge the technical issues for himself without the intermediation of the shadow chancellor.

Never underestimate Labour’s capacity to allow the right to set the terms of debate, and to accept frames of reference dictated by the right

I don;t think the Cooper/Balls drama is a left-right thing. Part of the problem is that Ed Balls wanted it so badly, that giving it to Cooper would have inevitably soured things between everyone. And the press would have jumped on it. Or it maybe that Cooper indicated she didn’t want it. Either way, it would have been turned into a media drama the same way having David Miliband in the shadow cabinet would have turned into a drama.

I have no idea why Ed Balls himself wasn’t made chancellor, it would have been ideological. Either way, this isn’t necessarily a thing of accepting the right-wing framework. That will be if AJ echoes Darling mercilessly on the budget.

It’s likely to be 5 years before the next election, time enough to change shadow cabinet postings several times over. AJ is a good pick for the current situation – no economics baggage to speak of and a welcome contrast to Osborne bluster.

In the news early Saturday morning:

Chris Huhne hints at shift in public sector cuts – Public sector cuts could be scaled back if economic conditions deteriorate or improve, a cabinet minister has said.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11506387

Never mind what Ed Balls has been saying, it really looks as though some in the coalition government have been reading what’s in the FT.

I thought to check on HM Treasury’s regular monthly survey of independent forecasts of the UK economy. This was the September survey – the October survey is due out on 20 October:
http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/201009forcomp.pdf

@26

Bob B – re. the FT report, all this seems to imply is that Osborne may spread the same amount of cuts (i.e. enough to wipe out the bulk of the debt in this parliament) differently, i.e. instead of frontloading the pain, push some of it back a little.

Its not implied, as I understand it, that the Treasury is considering dealing with *less* of the debt in this parliament, say half a la Darling, or less than that a la Balls. If that was the suggestion, it’d be front page news because Osborne would be binning his entire economic strategy after 5 months.

Whether Osborne frontloads the same level of fiscal retrenchment or not, its still insane, and the Darling plan to half the deficit in a parliament only looks sane compared to Osborne’s approach.

I’m glad, EdM has said that he wants to rebalance the Darling plan more in favour of progressive taxation, but frankly, even to see cuts that Darling himself described as “deeper and tougher than Thatcher’s” as “a starting point” is….well, its unspeakable.

And whether the average person has heard of Martin Wolf is irrelevant. The point is that Balls was proposing something that, objectively, is *not* radical. You’ll remember a Times poll a few weeks ago showing that 37% supported prioritising jobs and social welfare over cutting the deficit (essentially the Balls stance) against 22% supporting Osborne’s approach.

As ever with New Labour’s tactical positioning at the expense of doing the right thing, this has little to do with public opinion, which would either support or at least be persuadeable of more progressive politics. This is about appeasing the noisy Blairite minority, the right-wing tabloids, and the business community. I fear that, now that EdM has spent the summer telling the people he needed to vote for him what he needed to tell them, he is now performing to a different audience.

Either way, this isn’t necessarily a thing of accepting the right-wing framework. That will be if AJ echoes Darling mercilessly on the budget.

He’s given every indication that Darling’s plan is the best one. Johnson has not given himself the political room to depart from it to the extent required (i.e. to tear it up).

To be fair, EdM repeatedly called Darling’s austerity plan “a starting point”, so I had no real right to hope for something better. Its very hard to see how, even allowing for a rebalancing in favour of progressive taxation, slashing the debt in half in a single parliament could be anything other than severely damaging to people on lower and middle incomes, and when there are clear and credible alternatives available Labour has no business continuing on that course.

@28 – BobB, that’s a good point. Johnson will be 65 in 2015, and of course at that point, Balls reputation may well be soaring given the havoc and misery that Osbornomics is likely to have caused by then. He could still be the next Labour chancellor, riding into office on a tsunami of “I told you so”.

The point is though that Labour needs *now* to be challenging this dangerous consensus that austerity is simply inevitable, and that there is no credible alternative on offer. These cuts are going to destroy people’s lives, and progressive people of good conscience need to be fighting them every step of the way with a view to forcing climbdowns on at least some of the measures. Very hard to do that if you can’t even challenge a consensus that’s manifestly insane, simply because its the consensus and you haven’t the spine to do so.

@29

The Comprehensive Spending Review isn’t out till 20 October and, even then, spending is not absolutely set in stone if the pressure of events in the economy and the quality of public services took a really significant turn for the worse. The Bank of England still has an option on more Quantitative Easing, possibly to directly fund government spending on infrastructure projects, with low import content, if that became necessary to avert the prospect of a stagnant economy or a deflationary spiral.

“but frankly, even to see cuts that Darling himself described as “deeper and tougher than Thatcher’s” as “a starting point” is….well, its unspeakable”

I’ve previously posted the following news report from December last year several times in threads here:

“The National Health Service can make the £15bn to £20bn of savings needed during the next three years without damaging the quantity or quality of care – indeed while even improving the latter – according to David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive.”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6fba7dfe-e683-11de-98b1-00144feab49a.html

If £15bn to £20bn can be cut from the annual NHS budget of £104 billions or so without that making much difference to the quality of patient care, what implications does that carry for other public spending?

Btw on comparisons with public spending during the Thatcher governments:

“During Margaret Thatcher’s premiership public spending grew in real terms by an average of 1.1% a year, while during John Major’s premiership it grew by an average of 2.4% a year.”
http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/05ebn2.pdf


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts

  2. sunny hundal

    Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts << this by @SephRBrown is spot on

  3. Soho Politico

    Worst. Title. Ever. (pretty good post tho). RT @libcon Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts

  4. Jamie Khan

    RT @libcon: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts

  5. Mark Everden

    Now the s.Chancellor decision has sunk in, I find this quite compelling: http://bit.ly/bDTJts

  6. Joseph Brown

    RT @sunny_hundal: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts << this by @SephRBrown is spot on

  7. Toni

    RT @sunny_hundal: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts << this by @SephRBrown is spot on

  8. Joseph Brown

    RT @SohoPolitico
    Worst. Title. Ever. (pretty good post tho). RT @libcon why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts < Ha!

  9. Euclides Montes

    Indeed! RT @sunny_hundal: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts << this by @SephRBrown is spot on

  10. earwicga

    Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/m1iM5Oc via @libcon < Your daily dose of sexism!

  11. Sheila Russell

    RT @sunny_hundal: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts << this by @SephRBrown is spot on

  12. Andrew Ducker

    Interesting analysis of the Labour shadow cabinet position allocations http://bit.ly/9Qqy5B

  13. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Shadow cabinet: why strategy triumphed over the necessity http://bit.ly/bDTJts

  14. Kevin Davidson

    RT @andrewducker: Interesting analysis of the Labour shadow cabinet position allocations http://bit.ly/9Qqy5B

  15. My initial thoughts on the shadow cabinet « Paperback Rioter

    […] they? They all seem to be more about strategy rather than who is actually best for the position, as Seph Brown has said. Alan Johnson is a David-ite and a good communicator, but isn’t necessarily the best […]

  16. blogs of the world

    It's not entirely a bad characterisation, but sometimes the politics of the issue matters … http://reduce.li/g3eo3u #necessity





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