There is a reason why I called this blog “A Burdz Eye View”. It allows me sit in my eyrie on the fringes of political life, casting a beady eye over the to-ings and fro-ings before deciding when and where to swoop on unsuspecting prey.
The Shadow Cabinet appointments are a perfect opportunity. This afternoon’s tweets and blogs have been fascinating, watching the residents of the political and Westminster village work themselves into a lather trying to analyse what lies behind Ed Miliband’s actions. Here’s my somewhat different, outsider’s take on some of the key appointments:
Alan Johnston, Shadow Chancellor: this appointment sends three key messages. First, I’m in charge, I won and I decide who gets the pivotal posts. Second, this might be the new generation but Ed’s not stupid enough to ditch the old generation completely. Having Johnston at his shoulder provides a balast to charges against him being young and politically immature. Third, the contrast with Osborne will be striking and crucially, AJ might move the high politics, figures and jargon of the economy, the CSR and cuts into territory that people can understand. People are all scared enough thank you very much of what is to come: what we want is a voice of ordinariness, of reason, who can talk our language and whom we can trust to think of the consequences of decisions on ordinary families. Johnston might just manage to pull that off.
Yvette Cooper, Shadow Foreign Secretary: not quite such an odd appointment. Think Obama and Clinton. He brought her into the fold but wasn’t stupid enough to give her a big meaty domestic brief where she could overshadow him. At the same time, he wanted to give her a role where she could shine and achieve the political legacy she deserves. And Clinton, with all her attention to policy detail, creative intellect and frankly, feminine guiles in a man’s world, has done a pretty good job. So why would Ed not do the same? The last thing he wants is his biggest potential rival stealing his thunder at home. And so far, Cooper is actually pretty untried as a politician. She has spent all her political life in the comfort zone of a policy area she knows well. Time for her to prove her mettle on a bigger and more complex stage.
Ed Balls, Shadow Home Secretary: the right post at the right time. The contrast with Teresa May will be sharp, particularly as Balls has already proven himself a worthy opposition minister, and this is one of the areas where cuts are likely to bite hard. Miliband has already signalled a different approach on immigration, so there will be new policy formation that Balls can get his teeth into. But at the same time – crucially – he has been put in a brief where he is unlikely to overshadow the new leader, where Miliband can keep any eye on him and of course, remind Balls on a daily basis that he lost the leadership.
Andy Burnham, Shadow Education: a reward for a campaign well run. And for having introduced some new thinking into Labour’s tired old refrain. Be interesting to see if he can turn theory into practical policy and also how he will fare up against Michael Gove, who despite having a torrid introduction to the world of realpolitik, is still a pretty sharp operator. Burnham will enable Labour to speak to its heartland on a bread and butter issue but can he bridge the gap to Middle England?
Douglas Alexander, Shadow Work and Pensions: a chance to shine. Alexander, at last, has a portfolio stage he might consider worthy of his talents. He was always a backroom figure in the Blair/Brown years, although a pretty indispensable one, with a Ministerial brief that was always very much a side project. No longer. This is going to be a key cuts battleground. But Duncan Smith is not just trying to slash and burn but also reform a system well past its sell by date. Alexander gets the chance to pit his political and intellectual wits and no doubt, he will relish it.
Jim Murphy, Shadow Defence: no accidental appointment. Defence matters in Scotland: it’s one of the few areas of the UK left with a defence manufacturing base, a number of key RAF sites are likely to be hit by the cuts and strategic review, and of course, it’s the home of Trident. The forthcoming Holyrood election is nicely incidental. Any opportunity to give Labour a strong voice in Scotland on resonant issues is one to be grasped, creating important mood music for their Scottish election campaign.