What can you fill your time with if you’re a former Labour frontbencher left twiddling your thumbs as a result of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership? Well, as Caroline Flint and Chuka Umunna have shown this week by launching themselves into campaigns to replace Keith Vaz, chairing a select committee is a pretty attractive option, particularly when it is one as prestigious as the Home Affairs Committee. But both have also shown over the past few months that it is possible to be a forlorn former frontbencher and still achieve something.
Umunna was on the airwaves on Monday morning talking about migration controls: a slot his Shadow Cabinet colleagues might only dream of. And this week Flint managed to get the only non-government amendment to the Finance Bill passed, on country-by-country reporting of multinationals’ tax arrangements. This is no mean feat: non-government amendments to legislation are only very occasionally successful, as ministerial egos and the whips’ desire to control every breath of legislation in the Commons tend to get in the way of even sensible changes (including, at times, when Oppositions point out that a Bill has a spelling mistake in it). Even more impressive given Flint is a mere backbencher, albeit one who has been working on this issue for a good while now.
After some Labour figures, including Ed Balls, called on colleagues to return to the frontbenches after Corbyn’s likely second election as leader, some might have been wondering whether their current rather miserable circumstances might be improved with a shadow ministerial portfolio. At least this unpaid position would keep them busy, rather than fretting about the state of their party nationally and a deselection threat at home. But Flint shows that it’s possible to get on with it and even change government policy without having to attend dreary Shadow Cabinet meetings at all.