Peter Hain confirms shadow cabinet exit

What does this mean for Labour's frontbench?

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.
 

Peter Hain. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grenfell survivors were promised no rent rises – so why have the authorities gone quiet?

The council now says it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the government made a pledge that survivors would be rehoused permanently on the same rent they were paying previously.

For families who were left with nothing after the fire, knowing that no one would be financially worse off after being rehoused would have provided a glimmer of hope for a stable future.

And this is a commitment that we’ve heard time and again. Just last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reaffirmed in a statement, that the former tenants “will pay no more in rent and service charges for their permanent social housing than they were paying before”.

But less than six weeks since the tragedy struck, Kensington and Chelsea Council has made it perfectly clear that responsibility for honouring this lies solely with DCLG.

When it recently published its proposed policy for allocating permanent housing to survivors, the council washed its hands of the promise, saying that it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels:

“These commitments fall within the remit of the Government rather than the Council... It is anticipated that the Department for Communities and Local Government will make a public statement about commitments that fall within its remit, and provide details of the period of time over which any such commitments will apply.”

And the final version of the policy waters down the promise even further by downplaying the government’s promise to match rents on a permanent basis, while still making clear it’s nothing to do with the council:

It is anticipated that DCLG will make a public statement about its commitment to meeting the rent and/or service charge liabilities of households rehoused under this policy, including details of the period of time over which any such commitment will apply. Therefore, such commitments fall outside the remit of this policy.”

It seems Kensington and Chelsea council intends to do nothing itself to alter the rents of long-term homes on which survivors will soon be able to bid.

But if the council won’t take responsibility, how much power does central government actually have to do this? Beyond a statement of intent, it has said very little on how it can or will intervene. This could leave Grenfell survivors without any reassurance that they won’t be worse off than they were before the fire.

As the survivors begin to bid for permanent homes, it is vital they are aware of any financial commitments they are making – or families could find themselves signing up to permanent tenancies without knowing if they will be able to afford them after the 12 months they get rent free.

Strangely, the council’s public Q&A to residents on rehousing is more optimistic. It says that the government has confirmed that rents and service charges will be no greater than residents were paying at Grenfell Walk – but is still silent on the ambiguity as to how this will be achieved.

Urgent clarification is needed from the government on how it plans to make good on its promise to protect the people of Grenfell Tower from financial hardship and further heartache down the line.

Kate Webb is head of policy at the housing charity Shelter. Follow her @KateBWebb.