Shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell, who previously served as Ed Miliband's deputy chief of staff.
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Miliband may use Labour reshuffle to achieve half-female shadow cabinet

Lucy Powell and Luciana Berger tipped for promotion. 

After David Cameron's Night of the Long Knives, talk in Westminster is turning to the changes Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg may make to their top teams ahead of the election. 

Miliband is not expected to carry out a major reshuffle, with key figures such as Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham all remaining in their current posts, but he is keen to "freshen" Labour's line-up in the words of of one source. One possibility is that he will seek to ensure that at least half of places are held by women, a pledge he made during his 2010 leadership campaign. At present, women make up 44 per cent of the shadow cabinet, putting Miliband within touching distance of the target. By contrast, even after Cameron's recent reshuffle, just 25 per cent of the cabinet are female.

Two of those tipped for promotion by Labour sources are Lucy Powell and Luciana Berger, both of whom voted for Miliband in 2010. Powell, the shadow childcare minister, formerly served as Miliband's deputy chief of staff and has impressed since being elevated to the frontbench a year after winning the Manchester Central by-election in 2012. Her media profile has risen in recent months (she appeared on Newsnight last Friday following Miliband's speech on leadership) and she is already spoken of by some in the party as a future leader. 

Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, is regarded is one of the most impressive of Labour's 2010 intake and has enjoyed several notable successes since becoming shadow public health minister in the 2013 reshuffle, including achieving parliamentary support for legislation to ban smoking in cars with children. 

Miliband will also need to decide whether to bring back "big beasts", such as Alan Johnson and Alistair Darling, to add experience to his young team ahead of the election campaign. Among those who have called for the return of Johnson, one of the most popular MPs in the country, are John Prescott, Len McCluskey (who previously attacked him as a Blairite retread) and Tom Watson. But it is unclear whether the former home secretary, who will publish the second volume of his memoirs later this year, would wish to return to the shadow cabinet after resigning in 2011 as shadow chancellor. 

Darling has long said that he will decide on his future after the Scottish independence referendum (he leads the No campaign) in September and he has been touted by commentators as a possible replacement for Balls as shadow chancellor. But there is no prospect of him returning in this role; Miliband has publicly guaranteed Balls's position and Darling is regarded as too associated with the last Labour government. 

As I've written before, the appointment of the man who was Chancellor at the time of the financial crisis would be a political gift to the Tories. Osborne and Cameron make much of Balls's Treasury past, but how many outside of Westminster know that he was City minister from 2006-07, or that he previously served as Brown's special adviser? Voters are more likely to remember him for his time as Schools Secretary than his time as Brown's brain. 

Clegg, meanwhile, plans to promote business minister Jo Swinson to Scottish Secretary following the independence referendum, finally giving the Lib Dems their first female cabinet minister. Had Swinson not been on maternity leave at the time of the 2013 reshuffle it is likely that she, rather than Alistair Carmichael, would have replaced Michael Moore in the role. 

Both the Labour and Lib Dem reshuffles are expected to take place after the autumn conference season. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war