Corbyns Cabinet Of Curiosities
By now the politisphere is whirling with discussion of the ‘ins and outs’ of the new shadow cabinet, so lets get right down to it and frame this debate in the context of its most immediate test:
Is this cabinet a rush job designed to get something in place fast enough to coherently debate the Unions bill, something that must be very close to Corbyns heart, or has this been a properly thought out attempt at party unity?
Lets take a look at the appointments and glean what we can from them:
• Corbyn could using his ‘big win shield’ on a man he genuinely believes can do the job or this could simply a repayment of loyalty to his left wing ally. McDonnell was if you remember in candidate corbyns shoes as the left wings choice twice before, steering away from a third attempt due to a heart attack. His choice of McDonnell could also be an early show of his refusal to play politics within the party.
• Corbyns defeated left leadership rival Andy Burnham is now shadow home secretary, which comes as little surprise. During the election campaign Mr Burnham had expressed a willingness to work with Mr Corbyn should his bid be unsuccessful.
• Hilary Benn, who was vocal supporter of Mr Burnham, remains in post as shadow foreign secretary.
• Lewisham MP Heidi Alexander will take over from Mr Burnham as shadow health secretary. Fitting as Ms Alexander was a supporter of Mr Burnham during his 2010 run for the leadership; another piece of the unity puzzle perhaps?
• Lucy Powell, Ed Miliband's general election coordinator and the manager of his leadership campaign, will be the new shadow education secretary.
• Lord Falconer, a former justice secretary who was made a Lord by Tony Blair, will continue as shadow justice secretary.
• Seema Malhotra, a former management consultant who worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, is shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, presumably to endear this cabinet in to the business world.
• Staunchly left and one of Labours most visible female MPS, Diane Abbott is made shadow minister for international development. Although know for her frequent rebellion during the new Labour era her public prominence means she is a valuable asset to Corbyns unity cabinet. She also takes the former leadership candidates up to three, four if you count Hilary Benns run for deputy; too many cooks perchance?
• Rosie Winterton to continue as chief whip, presumably to ensure a sense of continuity, or perhaps out of respect for an old adversary of a rebel turned rallying point.
• The cabinet is rounded out by Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker and Ian Murray who will continue as shadow Scottish secretary. I have little to say on these roles as I see almost no point to them in a devolved landscape.
In the immediacy it strikes these ears as being a mix of boldness born of his landslide victory, tempered with compromise for the sake of much needed unity. The selection of four former leadership candidates, many of whom cut their teeth during the New labour era, mixed with a smattering of supporters of said candidates and surprisingly few Leftist choices makes this seem relatively balanced. The mix of Blairites, Burnham supporters and even a Milliband supporter suggests Corbyn has no intention of driving a wedge between the left and centre of the party.
Criticism has of course begun early of Jeremy Corbyns appointments to the traditional ‘power roles’ within the shadow cabinet: why are there are no women in the ‘big three’? His teams response has been clear enough. Roles like home secretary and foreign secretary shouldn’t be considered as ‘higher’ posts than health or education, that hierarchy being a relic from an imperial past unsuitable for the realistic priorities of modern politics. It certainly cant have helped to see the expected withdrawal of support by Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall and indeed criticism from the mps in their respective camps. If they are unwilling to work with Mr Corbyn then how could he select them for cabinet places? I hope the irony of this rejection of a man who long championed equality issues when they were considered ‘fringe’ concerns is not lost on you dear readers.
Of course there is still a huge amount to be done to truly bind the labour party together, both by the new leadership and its supporters both in the party and in parliament. Jeremy may be hoping to find this happy goal wrapped and beneath the presumably secular ‘winter tree’ but it could take significantly longer for the impact of this victory to be communicated as a genuine mandate to his MPs. As always only time will tell.
Take a look at this for the opinion from my dear colleague Mr Guildo.