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.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

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

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