14 September 2015

Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is a piece of political satire


If the willingness and ability to go on marches and preach to the converted through a megaphone on a drizzly Saturday afternoon is now the qualification to run this country, then, wow, have we got a top notch Government in waiting. This ragtag bunch of misfits, nobodies and hangers on will certainly give the Tories a run for their money come 2020, oh yes. You just wait and see!

Except of course they won’t have to wait and see what happens in four and a half years’ time. We don’t even have to wait until lunchtime tomorrow to make a judgement call on this Shadow Cabinet.

This is truly the worst – the very worst – Shadow Cabinet of any party. Ever.

If you had chosen to put together a fantasy Jeremy Corbyn Shadow Cabinet, you could not have come up with a less impressive bunch in a month of Sundays than the new Labour leader managed in just one Sunday.

Let’s leave aside, for one moment, the criticisms from political onlookers and the Tories. Even if we judge the new Shadow Cabinet on Jeremy Corbyn’s own terms, it has failed on an astonishing scale. After months of bleating on about the need for a “new kind of politics” and an explicit pledge to give half of the front bench positions to women, Corbyn then chose to hand out the top jobs – chancellor, foreign secretary and the home office – to white, middle aged men. A new kind of politics indeed.

It’s one thing to fail in the eyes of your critics, but it’s of quite another magnitude to fail on the very criteria that you have publicly set for yourself. As one commentator wryly pointed out, Jeremy Corbyn has now married more women than he has appointed to shadow the great offices of state.

While women should never be appointed to posts simply because they are women – a position that is as absurd as it is insulting to 51 per cent of the population – Corbyn has walked right into this particular hornets’ nest all of his own accord, without any help from the “right-wing media” he professes to loathe so much.

No, this Shadow Cabinet isn’t a shambles. Or even an omnishambles. This is a trillion times worse than anything anyone could ever have imagined. Even the brilliant team behind the political satire, The Thick of It, could never, in their wildest dreams, have come up with a plot this absurd.

Of course, there were plenty of high calibre candidates in the Labour ranks who could have been in the Shadow Cabinet – until about five minutes after Corbyn was elected anyway. Yvette Cooper, Chris Leslie, Liz Kendall, Emma Reynolds and Chuka Ummuna are all clever and well-polished media performers who can get a message across, while the likes of Tristram Hunt, Rachel Reeves, Caroline Flint and Mary Creagh would be shoe-ins for any other Labour front bench.

But instead Corbyn has had to dig out a motley crew of has-been’s, never-were’s and never-will’s to man his Good Ship Labour. It’s one thing when ordinary voters don’t recognise an MP appointed to a Shadow Cabinet job; it’s quite another when half the Lobby correspondents at Westminster haven’t heard of them either.

And even the handful of shadow ministers with any experience of Government are pitifully poor. Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn (who at least has the benefit of having a girl’s name) makes watching drying paint feel like a rollercoaster ride in comparison, while Andy Burnham, the newly appointed Shadow Home Secretary, is a busted flush after running the most dismal leadership campaign ever known. As for the few women near the top of the pole, Angela Eagle in her new role as Shadow Business Secretary, with a dour demeanour and a voice like nails scraping down a chalkboard, will have Britain reaching for their remote controls every time she appears on our TV screens.

But it’s not just the lack of proven track record for most of these people, it’s the actual track records that also raise many questions. The new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is a man who has proudly supported the IRA’s armed struggle and publicly wished Margaret Thatcher dead; a man who lists one of his “recreations” in Who’s Who as “fermenting the overthrow of capitalism”. The fact that he couldn’t even spell “fomenting” correctly says it all: the revolution will be televised and the captions will be misspelt.

The truth is that this isn’t a shadow cabinet at all, it’s a sixth form debating society team –comprised entirely of Jeremy Corbyn’s mates and hangers on. You don’t need to look back to the heady days of Tony Blair and his three election victories to see just how bad this is.

In a few months’ time, we will look back at the sight of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich and realise that it was Labour’s finest hour.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is a journalist and broadcaster. A former political editor and LBC Radio presenter, she is a regular on TV shows such as Question Time and Have I Got News For You, and on Radio 4’s Any Questions.