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Friday, October 08, 2010 

Labour's new generation part deux.

When you're blessed with such a surfeit of talent as Ed Miliband was in the shadow cabinet elections, there's always going to be a great difficulty in pleasing everyone when picking the jobs to place them in, and so it has proved. Frankly though, there was never much of Ed Balls becoming shadow chancellor; as effective as he might well have been in facing George Osborne, he both has a "reputation" as Gordon Brown's main protege and spent large parts of his leadership campaign all but denying that any cuts were going to have to be made.

This said, putting Alan Johnson in the position instead is potentially a gamble. As much as I'm inclined to agree with the ten reasons put forward by Martin Kettle for why he'll do a good job, all too noticeable by their absence is any actual economic credentials. True, George Osborne didn't and doesn't have any either and it's done little harm to his position apart from the occasional jibe about inexperience from the City, yet Yvette Cooper was surely the best compromise figure. It might as some have suggested led to another soap opera between her and Balls as to whether they agree and to as to how much influence her husband potentially has over her, but she clearly has experience on her side having both been an economist (researcher and journalist) before becoming an MP as well as formerly chief secretary to the Treasury.

Balls as shadow home secretary is also hardly ideal, again as we know little on his actual views outside of immigration - on which the party seems likely to move even further to the right following the major impact it had on the leadership election. It was however impossible for Johnson to stay in his position having in effect criticised Ed Miliband for saying the party had got it wrong on civil liberties, not being able to remember a "single issue" where it had got the balance wrong. Also constricting Miliband was that he had to consider the leadership contenders' relative placings; Balls might have best suited to his post while in government at education, yet his high profile and share of the vote meant he had little choice but to promote him, with either shadow home or foreign secretary the choices as chancellor was out. Somehow you just can't imagine Balls as foreign secretary, although how Cooper will perform there is equally open to question, even if as Sunder Katwala suggests she was moving towards a closer position to the new leader's one on Iraq three years ago.

Outside of those choices, the only other one worthy of critique is perhaps Miliband's choice of defence secretary. John Denham would have been a good choice, considering his opposition to the Iraq war, signifying a break with the past, although whether he would have wanted the job is open to question. It has to be hoped that some of the more lowly shadow ministerial positions will go to some of the new intake - the true next generation, unencumbered by having previously supported such destructive and disastrous policies as almost the entirety of the new shadow cabinet.

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