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.