Shadow play: Who's that Labour frontbencher?

The public is struggling to recognise the Opposition's big beasts

Andrew Grice
Thursday 30 June 2011 00:00 BST

One in four people thinks Ed Miliband is his elder brother David. A similar proportion of voters believe that David is actually Ed. Nine months into his leadership of the Labour Party, the findings of the ComRes survey for The Independent do not paint a flattering picture for Ed Miliband, as he steps up his efforts to convince the people that he is a prime minister-in-waiting.

Click HERE to view Labour test graphic (118 kb)

Other members of his Shadow Cabinet are even more anonymous. The only good news is for Ed Balls, the combative shadow chancellor who stood against the Milibands for the Labour leadership last year, and who appears to have made more of an impact on the electorate than the two brothers. He was correctly identified by 68 per cent of the 2,000 voters who were shown photographs of eight senior Labour figures and asked to put one of five names to their face. Ed Miliband was named accurately by 64 per cent of those questioned but 23 per cent thought he was his brother David. David was identified by 61 per cent but 26 per cent thought he was his brother.

The other five Shadow Cabinet figures tested by ComRes were recognised by only three or four in 10 voters, suggesting that the Opposition team is struggling to be noticed and many Shadow Cabinet members remain in the shadows.

The poll was taken after Ed Miliband announced his intention to scrap the elections to the Shadow Cabinet among Labour MPs held every two years. If approved, his shake-up will allow him to appoint whoever he wants to his top team rather than be made to work with those MPs who have lobbied for support among the party's backbenchers.

His allies hope that the change will sharpen the Shadow Cabinet's performance by allowing him to include Labour's "new generation" so frontbenchers can spend their time attacking the government rather than currying favour with Labour backbenchers in the hope of winning votes in the open popularity contest.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, may be seen as a possible leader in Labour circles but the public does not yet view her in the same light. Unlike her husband Mr Balls, only one in three (33 per cent) voters polled could identify her from her photograph.

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, regarded by Labour colleagues as one of the party's best performers since last year's election, appears to be even less well-known. Only 30 per cent recognised him. Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, fared a little better, being recognised by four in 10 (40 per cent) of those questioned.

The poll was less encouraging for the shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy. More people (30 per cent) named him as Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, than himself (25 per cent) and 19 per cent thought he was John Healey, Labour's health spokesman.

Meg Hillier, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, suffered a similar fate: 30 per cent thought she was Caroline Flint, the party's local government spokeswoman, and only 19 per cent identified her accurately. The same proportion thought she was Angela Eagle, a Labour Treasury spokeswoman, 17 per cent thought she was Ms Cooper and 15 per cent Tessa Jowell, the party's spokeswoman on Cabinet Office matters.

Surprisingly, Conservative supporters seem more aware of Labour frontbenchers than Labour's own supporters. Of the eight Labour faces shown to voters by ComRes, only Mr Khan was better known among Labour than Tory voters.

Ed Miliband was named accurately by 64 per cent of Tory voters and 63 per cent of Labour supporters; the figures for his brother were 70 per cent and 66 per cent respectively. Mr Balls was recognised by 78 per cent of Tory voters and 70 per cent of Labour backers.

Labour MPs will vote on Ed Miliband's plans to scrap the Shadow Cabinet elections next Tuesday. Some MPs have accused him of returning to the control freakery associated with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but the move is likely to be approve. It would then need the go-ahead by Labour's national executive committee and its annual conference in September.

The change would allow Ed Miliband to recall his brother to the Shadow Cabinet if David decided to return to frontline politics before the next general election. But allies say David believes he made the right decision by returning to the backbenches after his narrow defeat by his younger brother last September. If the ComRes findings are right, a return to the Shadow Cabinet by David might only add to the confusion in the voters' minds about which Miliband is running the party.

ComRes interviewed 2,059 GB adults online between 24-26 June. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at

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