Labour reshuffle: out with the old ... then what?

Healey and Denham step down ahead of Ed Miliband's first reshuffle.

Well, there was enough speculation that Ed Miliband was planning to reshuffle the shadow cabinet - now he has to. John Denham and John Healey are stepping down from the business and health portfolios respectively.

Healey's correspondence with the Labour leader is online here. The declared reason for going -- the need to spend more time with family. This isn't a huge shock (although obviously it is something of a surprise; if we'd known it was about to happen we would have written about it).

I saw a member of the last Labour government recently -- now happily ensconced in the private sector -- who commented on how tired his former colleagues were, having toiled to the bitter end under Gordon Brown and then struggling to get to grips with opposition. Healey's name came up as someone whose heart didn't seem in it anymore.

It is worth adding that he has not been a triumphant foil to the eminently foilable Andrew Lansley. The NHS reform has been an absolutely disaster for the Tories and Labour have landed a few blows.

But the Lib Dems have also hoovered up a lot of the credit for disrupting Lansley's plans. As I argued in this week's magazine Nick Clegg is deliberately trying to squeeze Labour out of the debate on a range of issues, hoping to make it seem as if the interesting arguments, the ones that matter are within the coalition not between the coalition and the opposition. That has worked all to well on the NHS from Labour's point of view.

There is a fair amount of chatter around Andy Burnham being lined up as a replacement for Healey -- he had the health brief in government. But frankly he hasn't been any more effective against Michael Gove than Healey was against Lansley; less so perhaps. And, over the last few months, I've heard some pretty disparaging noises about Burnham's performance from people around Miliband.

Liz Kendall, Labour's shadow health spokesperson, has impressed a lot of people with her assured grasp of the subject. She has a background in charity and think tank research around health issues, but she was new to parliament in 2010 so it might be a bit brisk to put her in such a high profile brief. Still Ed has said he wants Labour to represent a new generation ...

As for John Denham and BIS -- we'll have to wait to find out why he has jumped. He is another veteran of the last government and was an early and loyal backer of Ed for the leadership; perhaps he too was just plain knackered. Perhaps also he found the business brief frustrating when, let's face it, Labour's position on growth and the economy is coming from Ed Balls's office. The shadow chancellor is not famous for sharing.

There is also a lot of talk about other old timers coming back to lend a hand -- Alan Johnson and Lord Falconer. But then, there is always a lot of talk ahead of a reshuffle. We'll find out the truth soon enough.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.