Miliband to abolish shadow cabinet elections

Labour leader moves to assert his authority with historic reform.

Ed Miliband has surprised almost everyone tonight by announcing that he will abolish elections to the shadow cabinet. It's one of his boldest moves since becoming leader and will give him the freedom to appoint his own top team.

It's not hard to see why he felt this reform was necessary. Miliband rightly argues that the elections are an unnecessary distraction from holding the government to account and that Labour has been too inward-looking. In addition, as Mehdi recently noted, the performance of the current shadow cabinet has been poor, with too few heavyweights able to come to Miliband's defence. The abolition of the elections will allow Miliband to promote Labour's most impressive new MPs (Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna, Rushanara Ali), to fire underperforming or disloyal figures, and to bring big beasts such as Alan Johnson, Jack Straw and even David Miliband back on to the front bench. One of the most frequent criticisms of Miliband is that he has been unwilling to challenge his own party. This reform addresses that charge head on. Even Tony Blair never dared abolish shadow cabinet elections.

Miliband will address Labour MPs about the changes on Monday night and has asked Tony Lloyd, chair of the PLP, to hold a secret ballot among them before the summer recess. The proposal will then go through the National Executive Committee before finally being put to a vote at the party conference in September.

Update 10:23am: The elder Miliband approves. He's just tweeted: "Well done to Ed for grasping nettle of Shadow Cabinet elections."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

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