The Next Shadow Chancellor: Slim Pickings for a Tough Position
Jeremy Corbyn is storming ahead in the Labour leadership opinion polls. But little attention has been paid to the question of who is likely to be the long-term replacement to Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor.
As the second most senior member of the frontbench, someone through whom all policy must pass, the Shadow Chancellor will wield more power and influence than the largely party-facing role of Deputy Leader. The next Shadow Chancellor will have their work cut out: they will have to face an ever more dominant George Osborne, appease an increasingly factional Labour Party and provide a solution to the increasingly difficult task of making Labour look economically credible to the electorate. If Labour is to stand a chance at the 2020 General Election, then this is an appointment the next Leader needs to get right.
So what might happen after 12 September?
With The Telegraph reporting that only 30 Labour MPs are willing to take up a front bench role under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, with many leading figures ruling themselves out including interim Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie, Corbyn’s options are severely limited. There is speculation that the Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, a former Shadow Treasury Minister and Andy Burnham supporter, would be open to the role. Veteran left wingers, Michael Meacher and Jon Trickett, MPs backing his campaign and with experience of being a minister (Meacher) or PPS to Gordon Brown (Trickett), are also tipped for high level positions.
Chris Leslie could continue his current role, having previously served as Ed Balls’ deputy towards the end of the last Parliament. Despite initial scepticism at his appointment of Shadow Chancellor, he has been a steady pair of hands in very difficult circumstances. He nominated Yvette Cooper and could be rewarded for his support, although there is some distance between the two given his comments about the need to end Labour’s campaign against the 50p tax rate.
If Andy Burnham wins, with Tom Watson as his Deputy, he will almost certainly appoint Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves as his Shadow Chancellor. With two male leaders of the party, she would go some way to displaying gender balance at the top of the party. She was one of the most senior figures to nominate Andy Burnham, and was effectively anointed as his Shadow Chancellor when he asked her to lead his campaign’s economic work. Her chances would be good if the one of the other candidates wins as well, provided they share similar views on the economy.
Chuka Umunna backed Liz Kendall following his withdrawal from the race. He is widely viewed as charismatic and, in his current position as Shadow Business Secretary, has often spoken about the need to rebuild the party’s fiscal credibility and to promote wealth creation. However, his desire to play a key role in the European Referendum debate as either Shadow Business Secretary or Shadow Foreign Secretary may rule him out of the running.