Rising stars join shadow cabinet

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Indy Politics

Ed Miliband today used a reshuffle to give a youthful look to his shadow cabinet, promoting six MPs elected in 2010.

At the age of only 32, Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves are among rising stars handed senior positions, as shadow business secretary and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, just 18 months after entering Parliament.

Phone-hacking campaigner Tom Watson joined the shadow cabinet as deputy chair and campaign co-ordinator but insisted he would hold onto his role as one of News International's chief tormentors on the Commons Culture Committee, usually reserved for backbenchers.

It is the first time a Labour leader has had a completely free hand following a rule change which means the shadow cabinet is no longer elected by a ballot of the party's MPs.

But Mr Miliband resisted the temptation to impose his ideological stamp on the top team, promoting prominent Blairite Stephen Twigg to shadow education secretary and retaining New Labour stalwarts Tessa Jowell and Liam Byrne.

Labour's Brownite wing was also strengthened by the addition of Mr Watson and Michael Dugher, attending the shadow cabinet in a campaigning role without gaining full membership, both of whom were close associates of the former Prime Minister. Gordon Brown's former parliamentary aide Jon Trickett is also elevated to the shadow cabinet as shadow Cabinet Office minister.

Mr Dugher, Mr Umunna and Ms Reeves are among five MPs who first entered Parliament last May to be promoted today, the others being new shadow Scotland secretary Margaret Curran and Liz Kendall who attends the shadow cabinet as spokeswoman for care and older people. Mr Twigg also came into Parliament in 2010, as MP for Liverpool West Derby, but had previously been a schools minister under Tony Blair before losing his seat in 2005.

Mr Miliband said: "My decision to appoint half a dozen members of the 2010 intake shows the talent that Labour has and the way in which this new generation can join us in taking Labour's agenda forward."

The new shadow cabinet is believed to be one of the most youthful top teams ever assembled, with an average age of 48. The 27-strong team includes two members in their 30s and 12 in their 40s, with Ms Jowell at 64 the elder stateswoman.

The biggest positions in the shadow cabinet are unchanged, with Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Douglas Alexander respectively remaining shadow chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary, though several others switch roles.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman exchanged the international development brief for culture, media and sport in a straight swap with Ivan Lewis.

The move was widely seen as recognition that Mr Lewis's stewardship of media policy was no longer tenable following his abortive proposal of a register of journalists at the Labour conference, though both insisted they were "delighted" with the change.

Andy Burnham resumes the health brief he held in the last government.

And Caroline Flint is moved to shadow energy secretary, one of 11 women out of the 27 in the new-look top team. Another two women will attend the shadow cabinet without being full members.

Departing the shadow cabinet are John Denham and John Healey, both of whom announced their decisions to quit last night, and former shadow attorney general Baroness Scotland who is understood to have told Mr Miliband she wanted to leave to pursue new interests. She is replaced by barrister and north London MP Emily Thornberry.

Three shadow ministers deemed to have under-performed over the past year, Shaun Woodward, Ann McKechin and Meg Hillier, were sacked. Mr Woodward's former Northern Ireland role goes to Vernon Coaker, entering the shadow cabinet for the first time.

"Big beasts" Lord Falconer and Alan Johnson, who had both been tipped to return to the front bench, do not appear in the new line-up.

Announcing the changes, Mr Miliband said: "Together we will show how the Government are failing to help families who face a cost of living crisis, how they are failing to take action on energy bills and rail fares and failing to get the economy moving again.

"They will show how we aspire to be a government not for more of the same but to deliver a new bargain for the British people."

Appointments to more junior shadow ministerial posts are not expected until Monday at the earliest.

Mr Miliband defended the decision for Mr Watson to remain as a member of a select committee, a job normally reserved for backbenchers, while joining the shadow cabinet.

"I think Tom Watson is somebody who has provided a service to the country with what he has done on phone hacking," he told Sky News.

He added: "I think it would have been wrong at the time of getting him to serve our party to take him away from also serving our country."

He also rejected claims that some of his new top team were too young and inexperienced, insisting the shadow cabinet had "the right combination of youth and experience".

"It is a changing of the guard for Labour and I think it is important to bring on the new talent.

"I hold to the view if you are good enough, you are old enough."

Conservative Party chairman Sayeeda Warsi said: "By promoting Gordon Brown's cronies, the very people who got us into this mess in the first place, it's clear that Ed Miliband is a weak leader who has learnt nothing.

"Until Ed Miliband gets rid of a shadow chancellor who is dangerously addicted to debt and comes up with a credible plan to clear up the mess Labour left behind, no-one will trust them ever again on the economy."