Alex Hilton: Labour can move forward at last

Labour now has a leader and a shadow cabinet. Shadow ministers will be getting to grips with their new portfolios and already shadow chancellor Alan Johnson has suffered criticism for not quite knowing the macroeconomic details.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Some grandees have attacked the process of electing the shadow cabinet and suggested such elections should be done away with. But things will calm down and soon we will see one of the benefits; Labour MPs' choices have included a number of people whose talent was overlooked by past leaders.

A crucial appointment has been that of John Healey as shadow health secretary. Healey came second only to Yvette Cooper in the shadow cabinet election, an outstanding success for a little known figure that reflects the manner in which he conducted business as housing minister. Well regarded for engaging with Labour MPs, giving them timely briefings and seeking opportunities to campaign in their constituencies, he has been rewarded by his peers.

Labour must work this approach into its DNA. Shadow ministers must engage the expertise on the backbenches and in the membership and the wider supporter base. They must draw out issues for media and doorstep campaigning, equip the local parties with campaign materials and policy briefings and, above all, consistently look ready for government.

The Government's policy diarrhoea has been spattering various groups that supported the governing parties at the last election. Middle England has realised that cuts mean cuts to them too and students never believed the Lib Dems would renege on their top-up fees promise. But while this looks good for Labour, the Government will solidify and it will have got its messy betrayals out of the way early.

Before this comes to pass, Labour must have an agenda, a message and the people in place who will inspire support. If Labour instead drifts into factionalism and spends time on internal battles over arcane internal election rules, then it will not be ready when the Government recovers its footing.

Alex Hilton is a political communications adviser and former Labour parliamentary candidate.

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