Fraser Nelson

Abbott caps Miliband’s defensive reshuffle

Abbott caps Miliband's defensive reshuffle
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Those months of campaigning have finally paid off for Dianne Abbott. She has been made a Shadow Health Minister – which resembles a proper job. She was against the Blair-Milburn reforms in the NHS, regarding them as too pro-market – so let’s see if she keeps this position in opposition, thereby throwing more soil on the grave of New Labour. One can imagine the fear running down Andrew Lansley’s spine at this new team: John Healey and Abbott. It’s just baffling. In the bars at conference last week, I met many Tories who are increasingly worried at the pace and preparedness of Lansley’s proposed NHS reforms. But instead of marking him with some forensic, vicious attack dog (or his wife), Miliband chooses someone, well, rather less than forensic.

But this is a baffling reshuffle only if one assumes that Ed Miliband’s aim is to shaft David Cameron’s team. In fact, his aim is to protect himself from the group Guido calls the Talibrown: Balls, Cooper, Charlie Whelan and his various mates. The Tories do fear the Talibrown (who effectively beat on Gove over the last few months), but Ed Miliband fears them more. Hence this reshuffle is designed to try to heal the wounds in the Labour Party. For the record, I don’t dismiss the lovely but lazy Alan Johnson out of hand. He jokes that he needs to get an economic textbook, but I know some Shadow Chancellors who didn’t even do that. Miliband’s gambit is a) keep the seat warm for David Miliband one day, b) play off the people’s postie against the supposed toff Osborne, c) have nice Alan versus the nasty cuts, and d) come across as reasonable.

Remember, Vince Cable came across as reasonable – even if he spouted nonsense, performed U-turns and got things wrong. You’d be amazed how far one can get with a plausible manner in politics. And yes, Johnson’s lazy. But even that isn’t fatal. As Reagan said: “They say hard work never killed anyone – but I figured: why take the chance?” The coalition is (in my view) vulnerable on detail, due to the sometimes chaotic decision-making process that we saw during the election campaign and last week, over child benefit. They struggle to articulate a growth strategy, which Johnson has immediately latched on to. But I suspect they’ll get away with more of these technical errors than they would have if Balls was in charge of economics (something that would have, in effect, left him running Labour – as Red Ed would know). But I do not dismiss the Shadow Cabinet as lightweights or C-listers. Cameron is four points ahead in the ICM polls again, a good position. But the cuts will come soon, and he’ll have a real fight on his hands.