Leading article: The least of Ed Miliband's problems

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The Independent Online

Ed Miliband's decision to end elections to Labour's Shadow Cabinet is not his "Clause IV moment", as some have suggested.

The removal of Clause IV from the Labour Party constitution was a presentational masterstroke by Tony Blair. It made very little difference in reality, because common ownership of the means of production, to which it referred, had already disappeared from all Labour policy documents, but it sent a powerful message to the public that Labour had changed.

Ironically, scrapping Shadow Cabinet elections does make a difference, but conveys nothing to a general public that does not know who most shadow ministers are, and is not interested in how they reached the front row. When these elections were first introduced more than 30 years ago, Labour MPs immodestly claimed that they were "the most sophisticated electorate in the world". Yet highly competent opposition MPs such as Alistair Darling could not get elected to the shadow cabinet because they were crowded out by a handful of clever operators who knew how to trade favours in the Commons tea rooms.

That is why Tony Blair would have loved to abolish these annual elections when he was in opposition, but he never felt strong enough to do so. The fact that Ed Miliband can go where Blair and Neil Kinnock feared to tread belies the idea that he is a weak leader in thrall to his party. Yesterday, even those who oppose this latest reform, such as the veteran left-wing MP John McDonnell, conceded that he will get it through.

Ending these elections will increase the leader's authority and should concentrate minds of senior Labour MPs on running a competent opposition rather than on building up a base on the backbenches. Unfortunately, it does not begin to address Ed Miliband's much bigger problem: the public does not yet know who he is or what he and his party now stand for. Changing some faces in the Shadow Cabinet is not going to solve that.