Who is numerate enough to shadow Osborne and Cable?

Yvette Cooper or Ed Balls could be shadow Chancellor, while Liam Byrne wants Business

Liam Byrne, the chief secretary to the Treasury in Gordon Brown's government, is pushing hard for the shadow Business Secretary brief.

A source close to Byrne – who is perhaps best known for leaving a note after the election wishing his successor, David Laws, good luck as "there is no money left" – confirms that he is keen on the role. Mr Byrne will not publicly admit his interest as he does not want to appear presumptuous.

Under Labour Party rules, MPs must elect 19 people from whom the leader can select his Shadow Cabinet. Ed Miliband, who beat his brother David to the crown at the party conference last weekend, will not have a wide choice for the leading economic and business roles, even if the most numerate candidates are elected.

Byrne, who is reported to have lobbied hard for votes, is the favourite for the business job, a high-profile role as it will shadow Vince Cable. The Liberal Democrat became a household name during the credit crunch for his sharp economic analysis, and succeeded Lord Mandelson as Business Secretary when the coalition was formed.

Lord Oakeshott, a leading Liberal Democrat and a member of the Government, said: "I think the Lib Dems would welcome a man who said 'there is no money left'. The man is refreshingly honest and knows more than anyone what the problems are."

Another example of Mr Byrne's bluntness was when he exchanged a note with Yvette Cooper – now one of the four leading contenders for the job of shadow Chancellor – during the general election campaign.

Ed Balls, Ms Cooper's husband, was speaking at a press conference when she and Mr Byrne, who were sitting in front of the journalists, passed notes criticising the youth of the reporters.

Mr Balls and Ms Cooper are up against former cabinet members Douglas Alexander and Andy Burnham (who came fourth in the Labour leadership contest) for the post of Shadow Chancellor. Both are considered to be long shots. However, one might come through, if the married couple don't wish to compete for the same job.

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