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UK Politics

Ed Miliband accused of lurch to the left as he demotes Blairites Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg in Shadow Cabinet reshuffle


Ed Miliband was accused of demoting prominent Blairites today after he reshuffled his Shadow Cabinet in an attempt to sharpen up Labour’s team before the 2015 general election.

Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, and Stephen Twigg, the shadow Education Secretary, lost their jobs in Labour’s top team,  moving to posts outside the Shadow Cabinet in charge of higher education and constitutional reform respectively. Jim Murphy, the shadow Defence Secretary, kept  his Shadow Cabinet seat but moved down the pecking order to International Development.

Len McCluskey, the left-wing leader of the Unite union, has urged Mr Miliband to drop Blairites from his top team and has singled out Mr Byrne, Mr Twigg  and Mr Murphy for criticism. Labour sources dismissed as “nonsense” Conservative claims that Blair allies had been purged, saying party had “moved on” from the days of such “labels”. One Miliband aide said: “He has not discussed the reshuffle with Len McCluskey.”

Labour pointed to the promotion of three Blairite rising stars – Tristram Hunt, who takes on the important education brief;  Gloria de Piero, who becomes shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Rachel Reeves, who takes over the difficult welfare post. A senior party source said: “Ed Miliband has moved boldly to promote talent rather than conduct a reshuffle on the basis of having to balance one faction against another, as was done in a previous generation.”

Labour insisted the aim of the changes was to promote women and the bright 2010 intake of Labour MPs. Some 14 of the 32 people attending Shadow Cabinet meetings will now be women, while only five attend David Cameron’s Cabinet. 

The winners in Labour’s reshuffle included Emma Reynolds, the party’s new housing spokeswoman. Vernon Coaker, a close ally of the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, succeeds Mr Murphy at Defence, while Chris Leslie is promoted in Mr Balls’s team to shadow Chief Treasury Secretary. Andy Burnham keeps his Health post despite Conservative attacks on his record as Health Secretary in the previous Labour Government.  Two women swapped jobs, with Maria Eagle moving to Environment and Mary Creagh switching to Transport.

In an attempt to head off Tory claims that Mr Miliband is “lurching to the left,” Labour insisted that the reshuffle did not signal any change of policy on issues such as the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system or the proposed HS2 high speed rail link.

Mr Miliband also announced key appointments for Labour’s election campaign.  Responsibility will be shared by Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, who will be in charge of strategy; Michael Dugher, a Shadow Cabinet member, who will be in charge of communications and Spencer Livermore, a former aide to Gordon Brown, will return to the Labour fold as campaign director. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor and a Blair ally, will advise Labour on “planning and transition into government.”

Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said: “Len McCluskey is the real winner of this reshuffle. Ed Miliband’s purged the moderates and promoted those who want the same old Labour policy of more spending, more borrowing and more debt.  Ed Miliband is too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey, he’s too weak to stand up for hardworking people.”