Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is one like we’ve never seen before, comprising of MP’s from diverging ends of the left wing spectrum of politics. He has appointed a cabinet that to some extent can be viewed as a milestone for gender equality in British politics with female ministers outnumbering male ministers 16 to 15 but at the same time it has been denounced for assigning women to mediocre or ‘junior’ positions. However, despite the new found egalitarianism on the grounds of gender there remains a significant under-representation of ethnic minorities with only 3 of the 31 shadow ministers coming from black or Asian backgrounds. Corbyn’s cabinet is also far older than its predecessors, with an average age of 53 as well as consisting of more previously rebellious MPs, with Corbyn himself having defied the party whip over 500 times and John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, having done so 469 times since 1997.
The big challenge for Corbyn is to maintain party unity and this has to start with the shadow cabinet. If the shadow cabinet splinters and divisions become public then it is likely Corbyn will be depicted as a weak leader. However he has had to walk a tight rope between radicalism on the one side and the more moderate wings of the party, who he needs to keep on board.
So who holds these top positions?
John McDonnell- Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Having no previous ministerial experience and being a historical close ally and friend to Corbyn, McDonnell’s appointment as shadow chancellor was ruthlessly scrutinised by the right wing media who were quick to shed light on his past comments in which he commemorated the ‘honour and bravery’ of IRA fighters and saying that he sees no problem in going back to the 80s to ‘assassinate Thatcher’. Like Corbyn, he consistently voted against the Iraq war and the use of UK military operation overseas, which most Labour MPs generally voted for. McDonnell will be responsible for carrying out Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies which involve introducing a maximum wage on high earners, increasing the top rate of tax which currently stands at 45% as well as repealing the planned cuts to tax credits proposed by George Osborne.
Andy Burnham- Shadow Home Secretary Despite coming a mere second in Labour’s leadership race and defeated for the second time, Burnham has taken on one of the top roles in the shadow cabinet. Compared to many of the shadow cabinet, Burnham has significant ministerial experience having held 3 different posts under Brown’s government. Burnham rebelled against the party only 4 times in the last parliament however, he does differ from party colleagues on some issues such as voting for university tuition fees. He was also the man behind the Labour party’s bid to introduce an ID card system which has since been scrapped. He now faces having to oppose Home Secretary Theresa May on a number of issues such as the current migrant crisis and tightening asylum controls- something that he has almost always voted for unlike Corbyn who does not see migration as ‘necessarily a problem’.
Tom Watson- Deputy Leader Watson was one of the Parliamentary Labour Party members who called for the resignation of Tony Blair and was an ally of Gordon Brown serving as deputy party chairman. Watson has almost always voted against the withholding of information about communications and has campaigned on issues such as phone hacking and child abuse. He differs with leader Jeremy Corbyn on particular issues such as UKs membership to NATO and similarly to other colleagues, he voted for the Iraq war.
Hilary Benn- Shadow Foreign Secretary Benn has held this post since May following Ed Milibands resignation as leader and has years of prior ministerial experience. This appointment was perhaps one of the most difficult for Corbyn to make but will be necessary in showing him to be a less dogmatic leader and open to compromise. This is because of the opposing views the two men have in relation to nuclear disarmament and foreign intervention. Corbyn is strictly against the use of nuclear weapons and has vowed to never push the button while Benn voted for replacing Trident and the use of UK military forces overseas. Benn also voted for the Iraq war which is in complete contrast to Corbyn’s stance.
Angela Eagle- Shadow Business Secretary and First Secretary of State Described as the ‘champion of women’s rights and LGBT rights’ Eagle holds the most senior position among all shadow Secretaries of State however it has been disputed that dual role was simply a reaction to the backlash faced with having the top five positions being held by men. Eagle is now responsible for both PMQs and pursuing Corbyn’s, and much of the electorates, hopes in renationalising the railways and other privatised companies such as utilities firms.
Lord Falconer- Shadow Justice Secretary Falconer is one of the most prominent, well known Blairites appointed to Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. At present, he serves as a symbol of the deep divisions within the Labour Party having voiced his opposition to a substantial number of policies proposed by Corbyn and McDonnell. He has rejected the idea of renationalising the banks and has described the welfare cap as ‘sensible’.
Lucy Powell- Shadow Education Secretary Despite having never ‘met or spoken’ to Corbyn prior to being given this position, Powell and Corbyn appear to completely agree on policies concerning education. She has voiced opposition over selective schooling following the proposed expansion of an existing Kent Grammar school. his position, Powell and Corbyn appear to completly. She is intent on fixing internal issues within schools and work towards the creation of a National Education Service and returning state funded schools back to local authority control.