Why Labour should delay its reshuffle until after the conference season

A late reshuffle will turn the conference into a beauty parade and avoid the danger of disgruntled sacked ministers roaming the bars.

After a brief flurry of rumours on Wednesday evening, another week has ended without the long-awaited Labour reshuffle taking place. It's now likely that it won't take place until after the conference season - and wisely so. 

Delaying the reshuffle until October has the benefit of turning Labour's Brighton gathering into a beauty parade, with every current and would-be shadow minister doing their best to impress, and avoiding the risk of disgruntled former ministers roaming the conference bars. 

Politically speaking, next week will be dominated by the TUC Congress, which Ed Miliband is addressing on Tuesday, and the run-up to Lib Dem conference (on which note, look out for two major interventions in next week's NS).

The former in particular is good reason for Labour to delay. A reshuffle immediately after the trade union gathering would make it easy for the Tories to pin any sackings on Len McCluskey and co. When I interviewed McCluskey earlier this year, in a now famous intervention, he suggested that Douglas Alexander, Liam Byrne and Jim Murphy - "the Blairites" - should be ignored or dismissed. 

Since David Cameron often gives the appearance of believing that every decision in Labour is taken by McCluskey, I doubt Miliband will allow this to affect his decisions too much. But it would still be politically wise to put some distance between the two. 

Ed Miliband speaks at last year's Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.