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Peter Hain confirms shadow cabinet exit

What does this mean for Labour's frontbench?

Peter Hain.
Peter Hain. Photograph: Getty Images

After rumours over the weekend and before, Peter Hain has confirmed that he will step down at shadow Welsh secretary. In a letter to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, the 62 year old said he plans to stay on as an MP, fighting Neath again at the next election.

The veteran MP, who informed Miliband of his plan to step down before Christmas, stayed in his post to contest this month’s local elections. He wrote that the “thumping victory” in Wales provided a good opportunity to step aside.

Hain, who served as a cabinet minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said that he would not rule out a return to frontbench politics if offered something in the future. For now, he plans to campaign for the building of a Severn barrage.

What does this mean for Labour? The frontrunners to replace Hain are Owen Smith, Pontypridd MP and shadow treasury minister, Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan, and Chris Bryant, MP for Rhonda.

Speculation is rife that Miliband could use this as the chance for a wider reshuffle of his frontbench. In today’s Guardian, Jackie Ashley discusses the possibilities:

Like Cameron, his big hitters are likely to stay where they are, though there will always be a yearning on the Blairite wing for his brother David to return to the top table. This would hugely strengthen the Labour team and would be worth the gossip and tension it might bring. Miliband could hardly move Ed Balls to make way for his brother, just as Balls feels he is starting to get a proper hearing for his growth policies, as Europe shifts daily. But if Miliband does want to shuffle his top players, then his brother at either health or education, or even home affairs or foreign affairs, would be good news.

That's up to David and his demons. It would make it easier for Ed Miliband to move another Blairite, Liam Byrne, who though bright and capable has irritated many in the party by looking too close to the Iain Duncan Smith welfare agenda, and whose enthusiasm to run in the now not happening Birmingham mayoral race suggests he isn't enjoying life in Planet Ed. Of the Labour successes, Chris Bryant and Kevin Brennan look near certs for promotion. The three best female newcomers – Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall and Stella Creasy – could all do with an even higher profile.

How far Miliband chooses to go with the reshuffle remains to be seen -- and a return to the frontbench for David Miliband still seems unlikely. But regardless of Miliband family politics, this is a chance for the Labour leader to capitalise on recent successes in the polls (and recent Tory failings) with a reinvigorated team.