27 Jul 2010

7.6 women in the Shadow Cabinet?

“Shadow Cabinet elections? Why the hell didn’t we abolish them? We just forgot.”

The words of one former Cabinet minister, speaking for many, at the horror of finding that Labour’s long forgotten annual spectacle of arm-twisting, slates and smarming is back on the agenda.

We now have a timetable for the experience and it has been accelerated to help the new leader get a team in place ready for the CSR on October 20th.

Nominations will open while the Labour Party Conference is still happening. The results are to be announced in the evening on Thursday 7th October. The contest is normally centred on the Commons tea-room but this time it’ll be in Manchester and down phone lines.

Margaret Beckett will come forward with proposals very shortly on what proportion of Shadow Cabinet places should be reserved for women – one former minister told me he expected her to suggest that 40 per cent of the 19 elected places should be reserved for women …

I think that would mean a minimum of 7.6 women! That would also mean around 10 or so for men (three of which you might expect to be taken by the defeated male leadership contenders). Some expect the field of candidates for the Shadow Cabinet to run into dozens, 30 or 40.

Plenty of potential for acrimony, pain and ill-will then. 

Which is one reason why some formidable party figures are pondering whether there is one more opportunity to kill this election off for good.

The PLP, meeting at the beginning of September when the Commons returns, can decide what number of places should be elected. Should it be cut to 10 or so, 14, or should it be killed and buried forever as an institution that promoted mediocrity and instability?

Elsewhere in the Labour Parliamentary jungle … I’m told that Ed Balls’ departure from the leadership race is still “possible” though not imminent. He has a couple of weeks before ballot papers are printed.

He has 33 MPs’ nominations. If Ed Balls recommended they shift to David Miliband that could have quite an impact. In total they represent 12 per cent of the MPs’ section of the electoral college which makes 4 per cent of the entire electoral college.

There’s no guarantee that all of them would follow any possible Ed Balls recommendation to switch to Brother David but quite a chunk of them could. That would give David Miliband a big bit of momentum – as would a recommendation by Jon Cruddas.

He doesn’t carry MPs’ with him the way Ed Balls might, but there will be constituency members who look to him and he did come first in the trade union vote first ballot for the deputy leadership in 2007.

Some on the left of the party are sufficiently worried to be trying to warn Jon Cruddas off that course of action. So that’s two bits of momentum that David Miliband might get in the summer and which he really could do with.

Things are looking quite tight after the big unions gave their support to Brother Ed.

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