Monday, September 27, 2010

Cabinet makers

The manner of his victory isn’t going to be the only problem facing Ed Miliband in the next few weeks.  The construction of his shadow cabinet also has the potential to throw a few banana skins in his path.  Appropriately enough, his brother is wielding the slipperiest of all.
 
From David’s perspective, this must all seem like a nightmare.  He resisted sticking the knife into Gordon Brown before the election because he couldn’t see a way of winning the election afterwards – much better to pick up the crown later, and let Brown take the blame.  He also refused a dead cert job as EU Representative for Foreign Affairs, again pinning his hopes on the leadership.  He was the runaway favourite for almost the entire campaign, so much so that he wasn’t prepared to offer the sort of sops to the Unions that might have turned them his way. And, surely most difficult of all, he won.  He won the MPs, he won the party, he won virtually every constituency party.  He won everything except the Unions, but that wasn’t enough.  Beaten at the post by his younger brother, that’s really going to sting.
 
He has three options ahead of him: to sign up as a Shadow Cabinet member; to return to the backbenches; or to walk away from British politics altogether. Labour, and especially Ed, must be desperate that he opts for the first: rumours are flying around that he has been offered Shadow Chancellor.  But how attractive would serving in a subordinate position to his brother be – especially when you consider that economics was probably the biggest difference in their campaign positions?  Equally, does he really want to retire to a sort of ‘King over the water’ position on the back benches?  For all the bitterness he must be feeling, Ed is his brother, and David’s presence as a backbencher couldn’t help but be a destabilising influence.  Walking away altogether must be tempting, but there probably aren’t nearly so many lucrative and imposing international jobs as people seem to think.
 
I’m not going to try and predict what he’ll do – this all seems more like an emotional choice than a wholly rational one – but in his position I might be tempted to exploit the fact that his brother now needs him far more than he needs his brother.
 
If Ed can’t persuade David to stay on in cabinet (or if he can, but only in the semi-detached role of Shadow Foreign Secretary), Ed will need to find a Chancellor.  The ‘obvious’ choice would be Ed Balls, who has heavyweight economic credentials (albeit in the ‘persuasive but wrong’ category).  That really would be nailing Labour’s colours to the Brownite ‘Labour investment vs. Tory cuts’ approach, and would mean repudiating Labour’s election position, and alienating moderate Darling-ite MPs – who overwhelmingly voted for David as leader.  Maybe Balls would be better shadowing the Home Office: he’s an effective opposition politicians, and the Home Office is rarely short of targets.  Who for Chancellor then?  His wife perhaps?  She’s certainly competent enough, although she needs to work on her television manner, but there’s another problem (worse is Mili-D is shadowing the Foreign Office).  The four great offices of state would be shadowed by two brothers and two spouses.  That’s quite a shallow gene pool.
 
Perhaps it’s no wonder that Ed Miliband looked quite so miserable while he waited for the results to be read out on Saturday.  He’d realised quite what a pickle he’s in.

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