How Umunna and Reeves are leading the charge of the 2010 intake

An interesting dynamic to watch is how these two ambitious newbies get on with Ed Balls.

Ed Miliband has put his shadow cabinet house in order. It isn't a full Grand Designs-style rebuild, more a fresh lick of paint and some urgent structural repairs. (For a start he had two big holes to fill after John Denham and John Healey resigned last night.)

As generally predicted, members of the 2010 intake have been aggressively promoted -- Rachel Reeves, who covered pensions before, has shown herself capable of being an effective, attacking opposition player even with a highly technical brief and has been rewarded with the job of Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Chuka Umunna was tipped for big things even before he was officially selected as an election candidate in Streatham last year. Now he gets a chance at the top table as shadow business secretary. He's a good media performer and will give the portfolio a higher profile.

Expect more from Labour on small businesses, the junior business brief Umunna had until today. Part of the strategy (although you'd never have guessed it) is to woo smaller enterprises, the self-employed etc over as part of Miliband's assault on "vested interests". The Labour leader wants to be on the side of "the little guy" against giant corporate monopolies and bankers. If he pulls it off it would be an audacious political land grab -- small business is traditional Tory terrain.

An interesting dynamic to watch will be how Reeves and Umunna, two ambitious newbies with things to say about the economy, get along with Ed Balls. He is Reeves's boss on the Treasury team now, of course. But not Chuka's...

The big surprise is Stephen Twigg's move to Education. He is part of the 2010 intake, although he was first elected to parliament in 1997, defeating a famously stunned Michael Portillo in Enfield and Southgate. It was a dramatic moment that for many symbolised the scale of the Tory rout. Twigg is a Blairite by reputation and the move probably reflects Labour's recognition of the need for a more sophisticated critique of Michael Gove's school reforms -- themselves conceived as an extension of Blair's education agenda -- than Andy Burnham had managed.

Burnham moves to health. Last night I wrote on the blog that this was rumoured, but I questioned whether he would be any more effective against Lansley than he was against Gove. I still have my doubts.

Labour has a bigger problem when it comes to the health and education briefs, which is that the party's ideological position on the use of markets, private sector providers and consumer choice in the public sector is unclear. If Burnham couldn't express a view on that question with regard to schools, what makes anyone think he'll express one clearly over hospitals?

And without giving the impresion that he's denouncing government policy without any prospect of an alternative reform agenda. But then, I suppose, just attacking government policy on the NHS is an easier hit -- voters are primed to fear the effects of Tory policy on hospitals, less so with schools.

Liz Kendall, who I mentioned as a rising star with a command of the health portfolio, will be attending shadow cabinet as minister for care and older people. All in all, it looks like a sensible re-jig, not too cautious but not a drastic long-knife frenzy either.

One appointment, sure to attract much notice, is the appointment of Tom Watson, scourge of Murdoch, to the role of deputy party chair and campaign coordinator. He has always been a formidable political attack dog and Miliband is clearly hoping he will get his teeth into more than just News International. But before he was hailed as a hero for his role in hackgate, Watson had a reputation as a ruthless internal party schemer. There will be plenty of people warning Ed to keep him on a tight leash.

The full list of new shadow cabinet appointments is here.

 

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

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder