U.K. Labour’s New Blood

British Labour’s new leader Ed Miliband leads a new shadow cabinet in the charge to infuse new life into the ailing party

News | Louise Hallman | November 2010

The British Labour Party is on the rebound.  After losing the 2010 general election, ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown stepped down as leader of the vanquished party as the new PM, Conservative leader David Cameron and his deputy, Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg, prepared to govern.

After Sept. 25th’s party election, which saw Ed Miliband narrowly beat his favored older brother David for the position of leader of Labour, Miliband The Younger has hailed Labour’s first shadow cabinet in 14 years as the "new generation."

What exactly is a shadow cabinet?  Simply put, it is an administration assembled by the opposition that mirrors the actual cabinet in place by the majority.  The election of Miliband has begun a trend of infusing new blood – and hopefully a new vision – for a party many in Britain view as discredited.

However, the members of parliament who will now make up "Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition" were not chosen by Labour’s new leader, but rather by yet another election.  The Parliamentary Labour Party voted on 49 candidates from the House of Commons, with the top-polling 19 then allocated one of the 22 shadow cabinet briefs by Miliband.  Chief Whip Rosie Winterton stood unopposed and three further cabinet members came from the upper House of Lords to complete Labour’s first elected Shadow Cabinet since 1996.

Amongst the new players were several experienced candidates from former Prime Minster Gordon Brown’s cabinet – with the noticeable exception of Ed Miliband’s elder brother David, who lost by a margin of just 1.8 percent. In a move considered gracious by his supporters and bitter by his critics, decided to leave his brother a "clean field" to lead the party and will return to the backbenches of the House of Commons.

Replacing the sibling rivalry of the Miliband brothers could be another between spouses Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper – both of whom had been tipped for the Shadow Chancellorship.  Cooper, who had stood aside in the leadership contest in favor of her husband (who came third), topped the cabinet ballot and was rewarded with the Shadow Foreign Secretary portfolio.

Also rewarded was Sadiq Khan – Ed Miliband’s campaign manager and former human rights lawyer – who was promoted to Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Lord Chancellor.  At 40 the youngest member of the cabinet, Khan can more legitimately claim to be part of the "new generation" than the 14 former Brown and Blair cabinet members who also made the cut.

Also, on the sibling theme were identical twin sisters Angela and Maria Eagle, joining the cabinet for the first time along with five other fresh faces, who are on average five years younger than the old guard.

Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary and one-time speculated contender against Brown for Prime Minister, took the coveted spot of Shadow Chancellor over Ed Balls, who instead was appointed as Shadow Home Secretary (the same position a young Tony Blair cut his teeth on before taking over the leadership).  Johnson – who has no prior Treasury experience – was considered a surprise choice, with some suggesting his appointment is merely as ‘caretaker’ until the return of Miliband The Elder.

Deputy Party Leader Harriet Harman – one of the nine women from the House of Commons in the Shadow Cabinet – was given a place by default but did not gain the high profile portfolio many had expected; she was allocated the International Development brief, an area in which she has no prior experience.  Similarly disappointed were former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw who failed to make the cut and last place leadership contender Diane Abbott who came a poor 35thin the ballot.

With only seven of the 26 members of his team supporting him for the leadership and two contenders– Balls and fourth place Andy Burnham – in the cabinet, Miliband may be in a weak position.  And with several Oxbridge-educated, career-politicians alongside him, "Red Ed" may find it difficult to steer this "new generation" on its journey back to power and more importantly, back to the Left.

Other articles from this issue