Item one in the intray for Harriet Harman, Labour’s acting leader, is what insiders are dubbing Labour’s “micro-shuffle”. Both Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, lost their seats last Thursday, and Labour will have to replace them at the top table. Ian Murray, the only remaining Scottish MP, is considered the only practical choice for the Shadow Scotland position.
The challenge is particularly fraught as Harman is keen to avoid the appearance of backing one candidate over another, or promoting someone who is likely to run for the leadership. Fortunately, neither Chris Leslie, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, or Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, are planning to run for the leadership. It’s likely that Harman will promote both to replace Alexander and Balls as soon as David Cameron has finished putting together his first Conservative-only administration.
The “microshuffle” will still leave Labour’s frontbench team with plenty of gaps. Opposition frontbenchers Gemma Doyle, Anas Sarwar, Tom Greatrex all lost their seats thanks to the SNP surge, and will all have to be replaced in due course. Whether Harman opts to leave those posts unfilled will depend on how long the leadership election runs for. There is a strong feeling within the PLP that a long contest is needed to discuss the defeat and work out how best to move forward. But it remains to be seen whether that view will prevail when the party’s national executive committee meets.