It was, as I said, always going to be a tricky decision over who should be Shadow Chancellor. The most obviously qualified candidate, Ed Balls was scuppered by three terminal disadvantages: his stated economic policy was very different to his new leader’s; Shadow Chancellor would have given the most powerful position in the party to a disappointed leadership hopeful with an unmatched reputation for plotting and disloyalty; finally, he’s Ed Balls – the man’s about as popular as cayenne pepper in a jar of lube.
Ruling him out, the next most obvious candidate would have been Ed Balls’s wife Yvette Cooper. But presumably Ed Miliband takes the view that he’s broken up enough family relationships this month, although why she’s landed up at shadow Foreign is a mystery to me. In opposition this is almost a non-job; she’d have been far better employed at Business, or Work & Pensions.
But if it isn’t Balls or Cooper, who is there as a credible candidate? Well, nobody really. John Healey is too low-profile, Jim Murphy too Scottish and too low-profile, Andy Burnham too lightweight, Liam Byrne destroyed by a jokey letter. Who else? Alan Johnson. No economic experience, a reputation for laziness and inattention to detail, but on the other hand, a good presentational politician and, by Labour’s reduced standards, a heavyweight, albeit an aging one. The Tories’ initial reaction, via Philip Hammond, that this looks like a caretaker appointment rings true. The stage looks to be set for somebody to ride back into town in a year or so, rehabilitated and ready for the big league again.
The real question now is just how loyal Ed Balls decides to be as Shadow Home Secretary. The idea that this is a perfect springboard for an opposition politician to reach the big time should be challenged though – who, without looking it up, can remember who William Hague’s first two Shadow Home Secretaries were? Brian Mawhinney and Norman Fowler.