Hal Hooberman calls on the Labour Party to do better and pick a team that can win
It may not, directly, be a vote-winner - internally or externally - but the Labour Party needs to once again promote competence over loyalty. A bold statement, I know. The restoration of Shadow Cabinet elections may be one way of doing this.
Corbyn’s premiership has been dealt a devastating blow, represented by the meager figure of 202. This was, in part, down to the nepotism that has gripped the party, producing one of the most inexperienced, incompetent and disliked front benches we have ever put forward to the country. We have a mountain to climb. Historically, a diverse, experienced and competent front bench would have been a near-guarantee but, as we have seen over the last five years, this is no longer the case.
We must make the argument for restoring Shadow Cabinet elections, ensuring that we appear as a government-in-waiting, a unified broad church that is represented by our best and brightest, and a body capable of stellar parliamentary performances.
Shadow Cabinet elections, introduced in 1952, saw our MPs elect colleagues to the front bench, historically between 12-19 individuals. This left a number of posts unfilled, nine in 1987, being left up to the leader’s discretion, alongside the delegating of portfolios. This remained until their 2011 abolition, one of Mr Miliband’s famous acts of short-termism. We have learnt the consequences, the hard way. Campaign gaffes, ineffectual opposition and the shameless misapplication of the once-socialist concept of security of tenure. From a bare-faced lie denying a racist spat, to a commitment to pay new police officers just £30 per year, and a claim that the crisis of antisemitism is a “really dirty, lowdown trick”. It is clear that loyalty to the cause, or even the leader, has very much come to take precedence over competence. A one-way ticket to an electoral drubbing.
Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? These are big boots to fill; we have a responsibility, to the country, to do just that.
Take a look at the 15 victors of 1987 Shadow Cabinet election, having a collective 12 books published at the time, being host to giants of the movement, such as John Smith, Donald Dewar and Frank Dobson, alongside its diversity, seeing Gerald Kaufman, known for threatening to quit if Tony Benn became deputy leader in 1981, and Jo Richardson, a stalwart of the Socialist Campaign Group. The 2010 front bench, the last to be elected, was host to 13 Privy Councillors, 213 collective years in the Commons and over 100 years in government ranks. Contrast this with what we went into the 2019 election with, the roughly equivalent 15 roles could boast just two books, three Privy Councillors and a meager four years in government roles. Could any government be held accountable by that body, or any electorate won over?
We need to come back from the brink. To do so, we can not risk ceding any more ground to the Conservatives, in or outside of the Commons, that starts with a front bench straight out of the top drawer.
Perhaps, upon the election of a new leader, this will cease to be a problem, but this conversation deserves to be had after its years in exile. It would, undoubtedly, be a move in the right direction, even in a diluted, modernised form.