Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shadow cabinets - and this one

Well congratulations to my friends in Islington - not only won back the council in May, but now also a great result for Islington women. Mary Creagh (former LG leader) and Meg Hillier (former councillor and LGA member) are both in the Shadow Cabinet and Emily Thornberry (MP) missed it by a whisker.

Ed has done a good job of surprising people, not to mention a fine use of the talent of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor. Clever putting Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper in important positions but balancing them out with the only remaining heavyweight. I think Ed is aware that Mr Balls will only truly be useful to the Party over the next few years if he can ditch his Brownite instincts and refrain from plotting. I hope that he and his supporters will get behind Ed.

But...but, but. The Shadow Cabinet elections, let's think about that phrase. I found a good and detailed critique of the process on the interesting Life:Downloaded blog but I'll just limit myself to the more obvious points.

Firstly, why do we do this strange thing in Opposition, tying the hands of the Leader as to whom he can have on his team? None of the other parties do it (and, frankly, I don't know of any other party that does it in the Western world, although I'm happy to be proved wrong on this). Do we mistrust our Leaders so much that we have to pre-pick their team in case we don't agree with it? And even if we do, why do we trust them to pick it in government? Let's at least be consistent in our mistrust. It doesn't make any sense.

Secondly, what's this about women quotas? I thought this Harriet-inspired madness had been stopped but it was only a brief reprieve. I just can't agree with my former colleague Hopi Sen that the number of women in the Shadow Cabinet is an urgent problem which needs addressing (it certainly isn't to the electorate, I can guarantee you). Ok, even if we agreed (which, incidentally, I don't) that in some dark corners of the membership there is a latent sexism and racism still lurking that clearly justifies positive discrimination in selection of MPs...surely with the Leader we have just selected, we would at least expect HIM not to be a sexist? So why not just let him choose? Hmmm, no, that doesn't make any sense either.

From the outside world, this political sideshow may at best look quaint. However, if you scratch the surface and look at what we are actually doing, we reinforce the impression that, while pretending to be a modern party, the way we run it is often byzantine, old-fashioned and, not to put too finer point on it, odd. While thinking we look terribly progressive and are a beacon to the right-thinking world, the net result is that the wackier ideas of the PLP and NEC mean we actually make the Tories look good at party organisation, which is going some.


  1. I don't think that democratic organisation is such a wacky idea, Rob. Yes, it's quaint and byzantine - but it's more legitimate than dictatorship. And not as many people get shot!

    It's obviously a matter for the PLP, but I think cabinet elections would have prevented a lot of infighting when the party was in government.

  2. Hmmm, I'm not against the democracy (and haven't shot anyone recently, so that's a good start). But who knows better about the talent in the PLP and what they're best at: party members who give it a bit of thought once a year (or every 13 years if we happen to be in government)? Or someone (e.g. the Party Leader) who works alongside them in Parliament over a period of years?

    Democracy is right and good and healthy for the Party. But once you've elected people, stop interfering and let them get on with it - that's my motto. Don't back-seat drive, which is essentially what these elections is all about.

    PS James, I owe you an apology - have just discovered a few comments of yours from a few weeks ago which got stuck in the moderation filter. I will come back on these shortly (can't let these outrageous statements go unchallenged!)

  3. I wasn't suggesting party members decide on the composition of the shadow cabinet. As you point out, there's a gap in knowledge there.

    It's right that the PLP elects the shadow cabinet - and if this process had taken place when we were in government, it would have given conclusive results to internal debates within the PLP.

    Consider how elections for the shadow cabinet ensure that a new leader cannot exclude defeated opponents and their supporters.


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