Why Miliband hasn't guaranteed that Balls will be Chancellor

It would look presumptive to start naming his cabinet before the election and would put him under pressure to guarantee others their jobs.

In his interview on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Ed Miliband again guaranteed that Ed Balls would be shadow chancellor at the time of the general election. Asked "is Ed Balls safe in his job at the moment?" he replied: "Ed Balls is doing a really good job and, absolutely, I've said that he's going to be the shadow chancellor going with me into the election". That should put an end to speculation that Alistair Darling could return to his old job after the Scottish independence referendum, or that Chuka Umunna or Rachel Reeves could be rapidly promoted. But some asked why Miliband didn't go further and pledge that Balls would serve as chancellor in a Labour government. Is he planning to replace him after May 2015? Is he holding out the post for the Lib Dems? The speculation goes on.

But as one Labour source pointed out to me this morning, there are two considerations that likely explain why Miliband chose not to give this guarantee. The first is that it would look "presumptive" for him to start announcing what jobs his shadow cabinet ministers will do in government (akin to "measuring up the curtains"). It would give the impression that Labour believes the voters have already made up their minds. The second is that guaranteeing Balls will serve as chancellor would inevitably lead to speculation about other top positions. Will Harriet Harman be deputy prime minister? Will Douglas Alexander be foreign secretary? Miliband can't have one rule for Balls and another for them. For these reasons, much as journalists may wish otherwise, don't expect Miliband to start naming his cabinet in advance of 7 May 2015.

Miliband went on to say of Balls: "People have their critics; the thing I'd say to you about Ed Balls? He's got a clear sense of what this economy needs, he's working with me on tackling the cost-of-living crisis that we face and he's got the toughness to stand up to lots of people who want more spending when actually it's going to be tough for Labour."

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.