David Blackburn

Labour’s malfunctioning front bench

The old adage that it’s hard to make an impact in Opposition is ringing true. Dan Hodges has denigrated Labour’s opposition thus far in the New Statesman’s political column today. He charts the party’s competing interests to create the sense that Miliband’s lack of direction, which is marketed as consensual politics, is the prime cause for Labour’s passivity. A listening exercise and numerous policy reviews are under way, but Labour is still stuck at Robert Frost’s fork in the road. Sooner or later, Miliband will have to act. Without firm leadership, shadow ministers are being left to their own devices; which perhaps allows the coalition to escape misfortune because often inexperienced shadow ministers don’t do much opposing. The left-wing press is becoming frustrated. Sunny Hundal wrote a recent article titled, ‘Is the Shadow Cabinet half asleep?’; and Tribune has turned on John Healey ‘the most depressing [performer] of all’. (To my mind, Labour does well by saying nothing substantial about the NHS, leaving the government to contrive its own catastrophe. On the other hand, there is a danger that the Liberal Democrats will gain the plaudits for stopping Lansley.)

However, one shadow minister is spoken of in glowing terms. Jim Murphy frequently tops Labour Uncut’s poll of the shadow cabinet and not without justification. Conservatives assume a weary look when Murphy is mentioned, and concede that he is “running rings” around the government. Murphy’s policies are vague — he has delivered just one major speech, to RUSI, where he espoused a mild liberal interventionism but avoided the £38 billion black hole Labour left in the MoD’s budget.

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