Tribune leader, 24 July 1992

If the talk in the corridors of Westmin­ster is correct, two of the key posts in the new Shadow Cabinet, due to be an­nounced today (Friday), have been decid­ed for weeks. Unless John Smith decides at the last minute to change his mind, Gordon Brown will be the new Shadow Chancellor and Tony Blair will become Shadow Home Secretary.
Both are well fitted to their new jobs. Mr Brown has proved himself a capable trade and industry spokesman with a good grasp of the economic realities cur­rently facing Britain – not always hither­to a precondition for being given the post – and promotion should give him the au­thority and confidence to develop the Eu­rope-based strategy for redistribution, demilitarisation, environmentalism and growth that he knows Labour needs.
Mr Blair, taking over from a decent but unimaginative sixties social democrat, Roy Hattersley, has a chance, well within his capacity, to develop his brief as a nineties libertarian, more conversant than his predecessor with the politics of race, gender, electoral reform and rights that has energed at the centre of British radical politics in the past decade.
Beyond these two, however, the picture is hazy – and for good reason. The result of the Shadow Cabinet ballot was not known when Tribune went to press. With more than 50 contenders for the 18 or so places up for election by the Parliamen­tary Labour Party and the likelihood of several surprises, everything was up for grabs.
Mr Smith has indicated that he will ap­point a Shadow Cabinet of all the talents, and that those who opposed him and Margaret Beckett in the leadership and deputy leadership contests will be consid­ered fairly for posts in the new line-up. He has also promised a welcome promo­tion to senior positions of some of Labour’s most able women politicians. But much remains vague. In particular, the third “big” job in the Shadow Cabinet, Shadow Foreign Secretary, is apparently a contest between Jack Cunningham and Robin Cook, with the “loser” being given trade and industry.
Mr Cook is the man to go for. Unlike Mr Cunningham, he has shown a sustained interest in, and engagement with, the world outside Britain, and he is unencumbered with the old cold-war Atlanticist baggage that has debilitated Labour thinking on foreign policy for too long. Mr Cunningham has given no indication that he sees the future of foreign policy as anything but business as usual. Mr Smith should appoint the man who might be prepared to break the old mould.
Perhaps, though, the old hierarchy of tasks is no longer what it was. There is no reason, for example, to consider that the defence or environment portfolios are any leas important these days than the “big three”. On one hand, there is no more important question facing Britain or the world than the burgeoning ecologi­cal crisis; on the other, whoever takes the defence spokesperson’s job will have to preside over Labour’s response to the massive cut-back in war preparations that is attending the end of the cold war.
Yet there has been no speculation about who gets either defence or environ­ment. For Tribune, the best bet would be to keep Bryan Gould where he is at envi­ronment – for him to shadow William Waldegrave on the Citizen’s Charter would be a waste of one of Labour’s best talents on one of the Tories’ least con­vincing initiatives. On defence, the im­portant thing is that whoever is appoint­ed must be given the autonomy to push the case for reducing the role in the coun­try’s affairs of the military-industrial complex. As with Shadow Foreign Secre­tary, it would be best to appoint someone who is not a cold-war Atlanticist. Mr Smith has a chance to give the Shadow Cabinet a radical cutting edge. With the leadership and deputy leader­ship in such safe hands, he should reward imagination and flair rather than seniori­ty and solidity.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.