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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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.