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.

Photo: Getty
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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.