Greg Collins writes an analysis of Ed Miliband's new role in the shadow cabinet.
After a decisive victory in all sections of the electorate in the Labour leadership contest, Keir Starmer put together his top team with all eyes on how this would shape the direction of the opposition going forward. With many of the big names of the Corbyn project now returning to the backbenches, it was a reshuffle generally defined by the emergence of new and upcoming talent. Of the few old names now returning to the frontbench, it was the appointment of former party leader and Doncaster North MP Ed Milliband that seemed to attract the most attention. While promoting an unsuccessful past leader to frontline politics was met with elements of criticism, it could be argued for a number of reasons that actually this was a wise and important choice for Labour.
A glance at history shows us that in modern politics past leaders can reinvent themselves in new roles, just look at the example of the Conservatives with both William Hauge and Iain Duncan-Smith coming to be defined in their later roles as Foreign Secretary and Work and Pensions Secretary. Ed has not disappeared in the last five years; he has remained a diligent and prominent backbencher on a variety of issues and has also found a new voice in the podcast world with the highly successful Reasons to be Cheerful, exploring progressive ideas to change the world. Seen now as a senior voice in Parliament, his stock has arguably not been this high since millifandom, with both the popularity and authority he can now bring to the Shadow Cabinet.
It has been noted that Ed didn’t have the strongest relationship with the business community in his time as leader, but actually this is really strong brief for him based on his background. Having been a top advisor to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, he is going to have a policy insider’s perspective on the economy, indeed we have already seen a pertinent intervention from him on the availability of loans to small business in our current Coronavirus crisis. Additionally, there is the climate change element to his role, having led on the subject in Cabinet as the first Energy and Climate Change Secretary and having taken it up as one of his favoured backbench issues, he speaks with passion and authority on the topic.
Embodying the spirit of unity that has been much discussed, the ideological make up of Keir’s new team is probably best characterised as being soft left, something arguably truer to Miliband’s own views than the political make-up of his own Shadow cabinet. Based on the influence of the top people around him and the legacy of his time as part of the New Labour machine, he was arguably more restrained around radicalism than he would in his heart have envisioned. In this fresh era of Labour politics he can embrace the freedom of what is likely to be a bolder message than he, as leader, could have put forward.