Labour reshuffle: Miliband has rewarded the outriders for his project

Tristram Hunt and Gloria De Piero, two notionally "Blairite" figures, distinguished themselves by engaging with Miliband's political and ideological themes.

Ever since his election as Labour leader in 2010, Ed Miliband has often appeared a lonely figure. Few of his original shadow cabinet voted for him and many have seemed reluctant to engage with the defining themes of his leadership such as "responsible capitalism", "predistribution" and "one nation". 

"I am my own outrider," he has often privately remarked with a mixture of pride and regret. But one of the aims of the reshuffle was to ensure that this is no longer the case. Rather than punishing "the Blairites", as the Tories would have it, Miliband rewarded those who have engaged with his political and ideological project. It is notable that both Tristram Hunt (promoted to shadow education secretary) and Gloria De Piero (promoted to shadow minister for women and equalities) contributed chapters to the recent book One Nation: power, hope, community, regarded in the party as the founding text of the Milibandites. While notionally "Blairite" figures (who voted for David in the 2010 leadership contest), they have sought to give greater definition to his intellectual themes. Expect promotions for other contributors such as Dan Jarvis, Rushanara Ali and Kate Green when Miliband reshuffles his junior shadow ministerial team today. 

At the same time, the Labour leader rewarded his original supporters for their loyalty. Rachel Reeves was promoted from shadow chief secretary to the Treasury to shadow work and pensions secretary, Sadiq Khan, his leadership campaign manager, remained shadow justice secretary (the post he has held since 2010 and to which he is committed) and Hilary Benn, whose alleged lethargy had prompted calls for his removal, was left in place as shadow communities secretary. 

One final point worth noting is that "the Blairites" - Stephen Twigg, Liam Byrne and Jim Murphy - all chose to accept demotions, rather than leaving the shadow cabinet and seeking to wield influence on the backbenches. That is an acknowledgement of Miliband's significantly strengthened position. Over the summer he often appeared desperately weak; in office but not in power. But after defining the conference season, he wields new authority. By remaining in the tent, these big beasts have signalled their confidence that Labour can win the next election and that they will serve in Miliband's team. 

Newly appointed Labour shadow cabinet ministers Gloria de Piero, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds take part in a photocall in London yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

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