Monday, 11 October 2010

Choosing a team.

Despite the bright promises being made by the Met Office about the possibility of an Indian Summer Autumn is upon us. The conference season has blown itself out and all across the country the trees in public parks and suburban streets are taking on the colours of a sunset painted by Turner.

Next week newly elected leader of the opposition Ed Milliband will take part in his first Prime Minister’s Questions and in honour of the even has spent the weekend choosing the members of his shadow cabinet. An activity the media has attempted to liken to picking them members of, say, a football team.

As analogies go this is pretty much of a dud. Unlike even the lowliest of Sunday league managers Ed Milliband doesn’t get to pick his players, the shadow cabinet is chosen on the votes of MP’s, just where they play on the pitch.

Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper both make the cut, but not, much to the disappointment of the press pack, in the role of Shadow Chancellor. Harriet Harman holds onto her job as deputy leader of the party, Andy Burnham gets the health brief and Sidiq Khan, former campaign manager to David Milliband gets to shadow the Justice Secretary.

Peter Hain and Shaun Woodward, big beasts in the last government, miss out on seats in the shadow cabinet but keep the briefs for, respectively, Northern Ireland and the Welsh Office. A list of eager young MP’s will bag junior appointments between now and mid-week and somewhere along the line scores will be settled and egos salved after the shocks and scares of the leadership election.

The BBC helpfully produced a chart comparing the new shadow cabinet to the real thing. Now we know that 44% of the shadow cabinet are women compared to 17% in the cabinet, 56% of the members are under fifty and only 37% went to Oxford or Cambridge. Fascinating stuff I ‘m sure, but the public interest will focus rather more on the fact that only a handful of the shadow cabinet voted for Ed Milliband to be party leader.

The surprise appointment is that of former Home Secretary Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor, ever modest he joked to the BBC that his first act in his new post would be to ‘pick up an economics primer for beginners.’ For a man who claimed not to be up to the job of being party leader Mr Johnson has a strange knack for landing plum roles. A cynic might say that he has plans to come at the leadership by a roundabout route when public feeling towards Labour is a little less toxic; the cynic might well have a point.

Speaking about his new team Ed Milliband told the press they were ‘united in one central mission for the future, to win back the British people and take Labour back into power.’ They were committed, he said, to rejection the ‘pessimism’ of the coalition as they set out their ‘vision of what Britain can achieve.’

Brave talk I’m sure, but it is hard not to feel some agreement with the assessment of Liberal Democrat Tim Farron when he says ‘Ed Milliband claimed to represent a new generation, but his shadow cabinet looks very much like the New Labour establishment that came before it.’

This matters because it isn’t just Ed Milliband who will be choosing a team this autumn, we the voting public will be doing something similar.

When the times were good and the job of government was to keep things jogging along in the usual way politicians could settle comfortably on the centre ground and the public could retreat into the false comfort of thinking ‘they’re all the same.’ Now times are harder, and with the government poised to make the deepest cuts to public spending ever known in peacetime things are going to get a lot worse, positions will have to be taken if either the bitter medicine of spending cuts is to work or a viable alternative treatment be found.

However warm it may be outside, however much we would like it to be otherwise, you only have to look at the political meteorology of our present situation to see this is going to be a stormy autumn.

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