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
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Seven things we learnt from the Battle for Number 10

Jeremy Corbyn emerged the better as he and Theresa May faced a live studio audience and Jeremy Paxman. 

1. Jeremy Corbyn is a natural performer

The Labour leader put in a bravura performance in both the audience Q&A and in his tussle with Jeremy Paxman. He is often uncomfortable at Prime Minister’s Questions but outside of the Commons chamber he has the confidence of a veteran of countless panels, televised discussions and hustings.

If, like me, you watched him at more hustings in the Labour leadership contests of 2015 and 2016 than you care to count, this performance wasn’t a surprise. Corbyn has been doing this for a long time and it showed.

2. And he’s improving all the time

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t quite perfect in this format, however. He has a temper and is prone to the odd flash of irritation that looks bad on television in particular. None of the four candidates he has faced for the Labour leadership – not Yvette Cooper, not Andy Burnham, not Liz Kendall and not Owen Smith – have managed to get under his skin, but when an interviewer has done so, the results have never been pretty for the Labour leader.

The big fear going into tonight for Corbyn was that his temper would get the better of him. But he remained serene in the fact of Paxman’s attempts to rile him until quite close to the end. By that point, Paxman’s frequent interruptions meant that the studio audience, at least, was firmly on Corbyn’s side.

3. Theresa May was wise to swerve the debates

On Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, this validated Theresa May’s decision not to face him directly. He was fluent and assured, she was nervous and warbly.  It was a misstep even to agree to this event. Anyone who decides their vote as far as TV performances tonight will opt for Jeremy Corbyn, there’s no doubt of that.

But if she does make it back to Downing Street it will, in part, be because in one of the few good moves of her campaign she chose to avoid debating Corbyn directly.

4.…but she found a way to survive

Theresa May’s social care U-Turn and her misfiring campaign mean that the voters don’t love her as they once did. But she found an alternate route through the audience Q&A, smothering the audience with grimly dull answers that mostly bored the dissent out of listeners.

5. Theresa May’s manifesto has damaged her. The only question is how badly

It’s undeniable now that Theresa May’s election campaign has been a failure, but we still don’t know the extent of the failure. It may be that she manages to win a big majority by running against Jeremy Corbyn. She will be powerful as far as votes in the House of Commons but she will never again be seen as the electoral asset she once was at Westminster.

It could be that she ends up with a small majority in which case she may not last very much longer at Downing Street. And it could be that Jeremy Corbyn ends up defeating her on 8 June.

That the audience openly laughed when she talked of costings in her manifesto felt like the creaking of a rope bridge over a perilous ravine. Her path may well hold until 8 June, but you wouldn’t want to be in her shoes yourself and no-one would bet on the Conservative Party risking a repeat of the trip in 2022, no matter what happens in two weeks’ time.

6. Jeremy Paxman had a patchy night but can still pack a punch

If Jeremy Paxman ever does produce a collected Greatest Hits, this performance is unlikely to make the boxset. He tried and failed to rouse Jeremy Corbyn into anger and succeeded only in making the audience side with the Labour leader. So committed was he to cutting across Theresa May that he interrupted her while making a mistake.

He did, however, do a better job of damaging Theresa May than he did Jeremy Corbyn.  But not much better.

7. Theresa May may have opposed Brexit, but now she needs it to save her

It’s not a good sign for the sitting Prime Minister that the audience laughed at many of her statements. She had only one reliable set of applause lines: her commitment to getting the best Brexit deal.

In a supreme irony, the woman who opposed a Leave vote now needs the election to be a referendum re-run if she is to secure the big majority she dreams of. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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