The guard has yet to change as the ‘New Generation’ is sidelined….
Breath. Breath deeply. I had to keep repeating these instructions to myself upon hearing of Alan Johnson’s appointment as Shadow Chancellor. Johnson has a background in the trade unions and some experience at the Treasury and with Trade and Industry at a low level however, there is nothing in his background, or indeed his disastrous tenure at the Home Office, to suggest he out qualifies either Yvette Cooper or Ed Balls. Indeed, Johnson’s time at the Home Office was distinguished by his pig-headed disregard of cold hard facts which he didnt happen to like and his authoritarian streak – something which alienated a considerable number of the people Ed Miliband claims to want to win back in the first place. It is depressing and wrong that a white, middle-aged male is preferred to a better qualified women and sends the wrong kind of signals about the ‘New Generation’. However, my main objection to Johnson’s appointment is political; he is a deficit hawk and Labour has now moved away from taking Alistair Darling’s proposals as a starting point and to accepting them as unchanging dogmatic truth.
The appointment of Cooper (or Ed Balls) would have sent a clear political message that Labour was serious about articulating a clear economic alternative. Johnson’s sends the opposite signal. It says here is a leadership which is timid, afraid and still thinking about preserving its own position (no doubt the fact that Johnson has effectively abdicated any hopes of the leadership will have played a part in the considerations) more than changing Labour’s and making us a Party of the radical alternative. Even the argument that this was to ‘unite the Party’ shows that this appointment is not about who is best for the job but about the dynamics of inner-party politics; with no regard to our message to the country. The one saving grace is this; Johnson will almost certainly not last in his position and that fact is another reason it is a bad appointment. When Johnson is inevitably replaced it will send a signal of instability and hesitation. It is short-sighted and selfish in its conception and will backfire.This appointment is a cheap electoral gift to our opponents who must be delighted.
Other appointments are equally as baffling; including those of Caroline Flint and the shift of Andy Burnham to Education. Cooper’s talent is wasted at the Foreign Office which is very much a middle-ranking appointment for somebody who topped the poll. Ed Balls will have the same problem at the Home Office that Johnson did; he’s far too authoritarian for the post and will quickly offend and alienate the ‘small l’ liberal left. This will probably neuter his leadership chances and that was, again, probably a consideration. Douglas Alexander is another Blairite in another economically sensitive position. I wait with interest to see how he adapts to life defending Ed Miliband’s position on universal benefits. Some appointments make sense but they are almost exclusively the lower level ones, Hilary Benn will make an excellent Shadow Leader of the House, for example.
However, the overall result of this election and these appointments is to confirm what I said about this being the beginning of a journey of change for Labour, not the end. It’s a transitory Shadow Cabinet and hopefully nothing like the one we will enter the election with.