Where's the shadow cabinet? Mehdi Hasan asks

If Ed Miliband is under fire, doesn't he need public and visible backing from his frontbench colleages?

The NS blogger Dan Hodges has referred to it as Ed Miliband's "Bloody Sunday" -- Sunday 12 June. It was the day that the Independent on Sunday, the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday -- which ran extracts from my new biography of the Labour leader -- all contained stories about plots, coups and threats to Miliband's leadership, specifically from his elder brother, David.

In my feature in tomorrow's New Statesman, I point out that the real damage to Ed Miliband may have been done by his frontbench colleagues, who were nowhere to be seen that Sunday.

From my piece:

The fallout from the book's revelations and the Guardian splash were handled badly by Team Ed. Why was it left to Charles Falconer, the former lord chancellor and close ally of David -- who, admittedly, has since become an informal adviser to the younger Miliband -- to come out in defence of the Labour leader on the BBC?

"The responsibility lies with the shadow cabinet," says a former Labour cabinet minister. "When they were the victim of 'plot' and 'coup' rumours, Tony and Gordon would always use the trick of sending four or five cabinet heavyweights on to the airwaves to shut the story down. If I were Ed, my eyes would be swivelling to Douglas Alexander, Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint. Why haven't they come out to defend him?"

Good question. Where is the shadow cabinet?

On a side but self-promoting note, you can pre-order my new book Ed: the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader, co-authored with James Macintyre, here.


It has been pointed out to me that the shadow health secretary, John Healey, appeared on Sky News's Murnaghan show and BBC1's Politics Show last Sunday. He also penned pieces in the Independent on Sunday and the News of the World -- though these were on his health brief and not on his leader. He was, therefore, out and about. Nonetheless, I think the wider point still stands. There has been a clear sense that Miliband is on his own, fending for himself at the top of the Labour Party. If he is to succeed over the lifetime of this parliament, then that has to change. A shadow cabinet has to be more than a cabinet of shadows. The leader of a party needs the loud and constant support of his party.


Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may reaffiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that most firefighters are not Corbynites. The reaffiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.