Shadow cabinet: who gets what job?

As Ed Miliband prepares to announce his top team, here's a guide to some likely appointments.

The shadow cabinet results are in and, as Mehdi wrote last night, Ed Miliband is expected to unveil his top team today. Yvette Cooper, who finished top of the poll with 232 votes, 40 more than the second-placed John Healey, is in pole position for the shadow chancellorship, with Ed Balls the only other plausible candidate. Should she get the nod, Balls is likely to be handed the task of shadowing Vince Cable in the Business department, a role which will allow him to utilise his economic expertise. But there's an outside chance that he'll be named shadow home secretary or continue tormenting Michael Gove at Education.

Sadiq Khan, who served as Ed Miliband's campaign manager and is the first minority ethnic MP to be elected to a shadow cabinet, is likely to be rewarded with the justice or home affairs portfolio. John Denham and Hilary Benn, the other key cabinet supporters of Miliband, will also expect promotions. Meanwhile, Peter Hain, who missed out on election by just three votes, is almost certain to be one of Ed Miliband's five discretionary appointments. Miliband has already promised that a Welsh MP will become shadow secretary of state for Wales later today, after none of the eight Welsh candidates won election. Hain, who held the post in the last Labour government and was an early backer of Miliband, is the obvious choice.

Elsewhere, Andy Burnham, whose stock rose during the leadership contest, may be kept at Health, where he can lead the charge against the coalition's NHS reforms. Douglas Alexander, who served as International Development Secretary in the last Labour government, is the obvious candidate for the foreign affairs portfolio. Liam Byrne, one of the few shadow cabinet members with private-sector experience, is said to want to take over as shadow business secretary, with works and pensions also a possibility. Finally, we can expect Alan Johnson, one of the few remaining "big beasts", and Tessa Jowell to be handed significant jobs, not least as a gesture of respect to the party's Blairite wing.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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