Labour’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle is interesting – no, really – because it finally lays to rest the myth of Red Ed.

Previously, the shadow Cabinet was decided by a vote in the party, a bizarre type of beauty contest but it also showed where the party’s heart lay in terms of who it wanted to represent it in Opposition.  Changes to party rules did away with this contest, widely viewed as having hamstrung the party leader.  Well, no more, for this reshuffle ensured he got the chance to start drafting his people in to the Shadow Cabinet, the people he feels most comfortable with working.

A quick run through the winners and losers:  John Denham and John Healey stood down of their own accord, and who are we to doubt the veracity of that claim, especially as the correspondence backs it up.  Gone are Ann McKechin, Angela Eagle is moved sideways, Shaun Woodward also steps down and Meg Hillier vanishes.  A bit of musical chairs – Ivan Lewis and Harriet Harman swap roles at media, culture and sport and international development respectively;  Andy Burnham moves from education to health and the supposed big hitters of Balls, Alexander, Cooper et al stay where they are.

Incomers include returnees Stephen Twigg to education, Caroline Flint to energy and climate change [update:  thanks to commenter who pointed out this is in fact a sideways move but arguably still a promotion, as a more high profile role than previous one at communities and local government?] and Tom Watson to a party role as depute Chair and campaign co-ordinator.  Newbies are Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall, Margaret Curran and Mike Dugher. And big black marks for the Guardian for ignoring Margaret Curran’s elevation and conversely to the Scottish press for overly focusing on this appointment almost to the exclusion of others.

None too subtly, Ed has put to bed all the supposed monikers of Red, Purple, Blue and returned to what he – and the rest – know best:  New Labour.  Some commentators suggest he has brought in Brown’s bruisers to add a bit of muscle to his front bench, but Tom Watson is actually the only one who can be categorised thus, and his is a backroom role.  Mike Dugher may have been close to Brown but his role previously was in the shadows, not out in the open.

No, Ed has re-introduced a flash of Blairism but is also creating a Cabinet in his own image.  The new folks – Margaret Curran aside, who actually has real government experience and an interesting hinterland to contribute – might ostensibly represent Labour heartland territory but like Ed, they are party appartchiks or are unrepresentative of Labour’s traditions.  Nothing wrong with that, when it is talent that counts, but it finally puts to rest the idea, stubbornly held by some, that Ed Miliband’s election as leader would represent a return to old Labour values and approach.

Rachel Reeves has a banking/business background, Liz Kendall came up through think-tanks to be a ministerial advisor, while Michael Dugher has also served in a number of advisory roles and Chuka Umunna represents all that is hopeful and shiny but is definitely on the right side of the party.  Some of them, then, have very similar backgrounds and trajectories to Ed and other current Shadow Cabinet members.

And it is interesting because despite signals to the contrary – the conference speech, the ditching of public symbols of New Labour – some instincts are hard to ditch.  Ed Miliband is a creature of New Labour whose career was nurtured and weaned at the knee of Blair and Brown.  His party – as evidenced by its vote in the last Shadow Cabinet elections and the response to his recent conference speech – yearn for a turn to the left, to rediscover old roots and values, albeit with a modern twist.

Yet Miliband seeks succour and progress elsewhere. Constructs like the “good society” and the “squeezed middle”, as well as key planks of the plan for growth announced by Balls sit comfortably within the New Labour tent;  their links to old Labour values of fairness, equality and social justice are also evident but actually are more contrived.

Ultimately, it is the neo-liberal policy tendency and culture which is triumphing here, that accepts the basic tenets of a market-driven and oriented society; where home ownership is good, renting bad;  where work is the only route out of poverty;  where the private sector has as big a role to play in service design and delivery as the public;  where performance-driven targets related to crude outputs still reign;  and where wealth is okay, so long as it was earned productively.

Taking all that into account, his choice of shadow Cabinet members becomes less surprising.  He is surrounding himself with like-minded people, people he feels can create the platform he wants to project and offer the electorate, and it ain’t one that is going back to the future.

The idea that Ed Miliband would usher in a new era for the Labour party and construct a social and economic policy platform that cut ties with New Labour’s recent past was clearly fanciful.  New Labour might be being wiped from the public memory banks but its instincts and influence remain.  It’s old Labour that is being buried, along with Red Ed.  RIP.





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