In recent weeks, there has been much briefing from Labour sources to the effect that some members of the shadow cabinet (particularly the more experienced ones) haven’t been pulling their weight. As I reported yesterday, one senior MP told me that some had effectively “gone on strike”. The criticism is that the lack of involvement from some shadow cabinet ministers left Ed Miliband overburdened as he made repeated solo policy announcements. “On the grid it was all Ed, Ed, Ed. There was no one else on it,” one figure comments.
But others in the party offer a contrasting take. They suggest that senior shadow cabinet members such as Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Tristram Hunt and Yvette Cooper wanted to play a more visible role in the campaign but simply weren’t given the opportunity to do so. As a result, they were left to devote their time to local trips away from the cameras and low-level speeches and interventions. “There was an absence of women on the campaign trail with Ed. We need to put it right for next year,” one source said, expressing surprise at how few members (with the exception of Rachel Reeves) shared a platform with Miliband. “The reality is that you only achieve cut-through when it’s a joint intervention with the leader,” the source added.
While the focus on Miliband is regarded as inevitable in an increasingly presidential age, many in Labour believe that the party’s other big beasts deserve greater prominence. One theory is that Harman (who, as deputy leader, would be expected to play a key role) has been sidelined after a much-publicised falling out at the end of last year with Douglas Alexander. Harman reportedly “went crazy” at the shadow foreign secretary over his running of the party’s general election campaign and the lack of responsibility given to women. “She feels shut out from it all,” a source told me.With the local election campaign treated as a “dry run” for the general election by Alexander, the question is how and whether this will change before May 2015.
Meanwhile, several MPs have told me today that they would like Miliband to reshuffle his team at the first possible opportunity.