When a reshuffle hoves into view, everyone competes to demonstrate how accurately they can predict the outcome (and yes, we did well on the Tory side of things, thank you very much). On the Labour side, Len McCluskey appears to have magically predicted Miliband’s reshuffle.
Speaking to the New Statesman in April, he denounced Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne. In January last year he called Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy and Stephen Twigg three of the “four horsemen of the austerity apocalypse”.
Lo and behold, who has been demoted in the Opposition reshuffle?
Liam Byrne has lost the Shadow Work and Pensions brief, becoming Shadow Higher Education minister. Jim Murphy is no longer Shadow Defence Secretary but is now shadowing DFID. Stephen Twigg has departed from Education to the giddy heights of Political and Constitutional Reform (or DOSAC as it would be in The Thick of It).
Of course, with any psychic act there are two possibilities. Either Len McCluskey is simply a real medium, in which case he must be a menace in his local betting shops, or he knew the answer because he made this happen.
It is certainly good news for the hard left McCluskey tendency. Murphy was prominent in his support for Labour facing up to the deficit problem, and refused to countenance ditching Trident. Byrne wasn’t a match for IDS’ reforming zeal but had at least conceded some welfare reform was necessary and possible. Twigg was personally sympathetic to Free Schools and the expansion of the Academy programme (though the power of the unions forced him into incoherent positions).
Unite disliked the thinking of each of them, and all three have now been removed.
Murphy in particular is a campaigning loss to Labour. He is one of their better fighters, but rather than being in the ring he is effectively now tasked with holding the towels. More generally, the Blairites have been further sidelined in the never-ending civil war on the Opposition benches.
These are the symptoms of Labour’s strategic disorder, which was inevitable when Miliband lost his battle with the trade unions. Any shadow minister with an ounce of sense may be tempted to be pragmatic, but if they try then they get stamped on for falling short of the ideological demands of the people who fund the Labour party.
It’s worth noting that one of McCluskey’s four horsemen has survived the reshuffle. His name is Ed Balls, and he has even taken a scalp of his own. When the Shadow Chancellor flirted with opposing HS2 at Labour’s conference, Maria Eagle was furious – rightly seeing it as an incursion onto her territory as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Balls evidently felt he could do what he liked, and no-one could stand in his way. He was right – Eagle has lost her job to shadow DEFRA instead.
So there we have it. Two men come out of the Labour reshuffle looking strong – Len McCluskey and Ed Balls. Ed Miliband is in the unenviable position of having to keep them both happy, lacking both the authority and the power to fully lead his own party.