3 days since Jeremy Corbyn announced his first shadow cabinet. My first reaction was “Uh oh John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor?” Then I realise as Corbyn’s campaign agent in the leadership race McDonnell was bound to be “rewarded” with his preferred portfolio.
I am never a fan of political job “rewards” for loyalty. But that’s politics for you whatever the party.
Some have publicly attacked Corbyn for the lack of women in the so-called shadow big post – ie Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The kind of reaction that is pointless given senior female Labour MPs such as Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint, Liz Kendall, Stella Creasy, Harriet Harman et al all refused to work in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.
Diane Abbott is the sole black shadow cabinet member. But we dare not play the race card as black MPs including Chuku Umunna, Clive Lewis and David Lammy were unwilling to work with Corbyn.
Of Corbyn’s rivals in the recent leadership race Andy Burnham was the only one who said openly that he would work in a Corbyn shadow cabinet. Thus his appointment as shadow Home Secretary looks fair.
However, journalists and political pundits must stop maintaining that the Home and Foreign Secretary portfolios are “big posts”. They are no longer the grand cabinet posts of the 1970s & 80s.
- Since devolution the Home Secretary portfolio has diminished. I know from my previous experience at the Home Office that it is the advisers at 10 Downing Street that dictated orders to Home Secretaries.
- The Foreign Secretary portfolio is more a symbolic post since the cold war ended and the rise of the EU as a foriegn policy power. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair made sure that major UK foreign policy issues were decided by his inner circle at Downing Street. David Cameron has followed suit.Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said how we was left out of key policy decisions on Iraq on a regular basis under Tony Blair’s premiership.
The fact that many senior Labour MPs have refused to work in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, could be a blessing for the party. As lesser known MPs in this shadow cabinet can begin to make their mark.
If Corbyn turns into a disaster -over the next 2 years- new leadership contenders could spring from the current shadow cabinet team. Let’s hope that Corbyn accepts that as leader he has to compromise, delegate, learn and support his team. Chavezian leadership style just won’t work.
I really like Corbyn’s decision to place mental health as a separate portfolio. Mental health is an issue that needs to be more of a higher priority. It’s too important to ignore and requires closer working across political party lines. I hope Luciana Berger (appointed shadow minister) can drive the mental health agenda into new and positive directions. She does not have to look far given the latest concerns raised by London’s GPs.
Shadow cabinet places will no doubt change over the coming months for a number of positive and controversial reasons. One thing for sure – this shadow cabinet will make headlines. Daily Mail will see to that.