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.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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