Well it's been a couple of weeks now since Ed Miliband's spectacular come-from-behind win in the Labour leadership contest. After a few days of consternation, David's gone quiet, and Ed's been allowed to get on with the job. So how is he doing?
At this early stage I'd say: pretty well. I thought he gave a fairly good conference speech - although next year's will no doubt be a lot better - and most of the shadow cabinet appointments look pretty sensible. (In passing: I don't agree with Peter Mandelson much, but I do agree that shadow cabinet elections are a bit daft. If the Labour Party leader was just elected by the PLP - the pre-1981 system - it would make more sense. But this system runs the risk that a leader with relatively little support in the PLP suddenly gets a load of frontbenchers who don't really agree with him. Ed's shuffled the cards a bit to try to ensure unity, and it's not too bad in general, but I still think it'd be better if he had a free hand to pick people as he sees fit.)
Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor is a bold move - the contrast with Osborne couldn't be greater, and I think that's quite deliberate. Personally I'd have been happiest with Ed Balls given his depth of economic expertise but I can see where Ed M was coming from - he doesn't want a repeat of Blair/Brown wars. Commentators who have claimed Johnson is unsuitable because of lack of knowledge of economics underestimate the guy - he is extremely bright and will be up to speed on the brief v quickly (just as well, with a week to go to the spending review, although of course the full implications of the spending cuts won't unfold for another year or two, so in fact there is plenty of time to build a campaign around opposition to the cuts).
With Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper I'd probably have swapped them round - put Ed in the Shadow Foreign slot but with additional responsibility for international economic policy - banking regulation and the response to currency wars, etc. - leaving Alan to concentrate on the response to the spending review. My worry with Ed B at the Home Office is that he doesn't seem to be particularly liberal and it'll be sickening to watch Labour attacking the ConDems from the right on issues like migration and civil liberties. So there is potential for a Balls-up there. Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Sec looks a bit like a waste of Yvette Cooper's talents.
Looking down the list of other Shadows, the key departments at the moment seem to me to be Health (John Healey), Education (Andy Burnham), Work and Pensions (Douglas Alexander), CLG (Caroline Flint) and Culture, Media and Sport (Ivan Lewis). This coalition govt is unique in living memory for attempting huge, and generally ill-considered, reforms in a large number of departments (including all of the above) simultaneously (and you'll see, not coincidentally, that all the Secretaries of State in those five departments are Tories - which gives you some clue as to the real ideological centre of gravity in this administration.)
Just look at what we've got: in Health, Andrew Lansley's plans to break up the NHS, unmentioned at the election. In Education, Micky Gove using the academy blueprint set up by Labour to create a two-tier state school system, deliberately increasing inequalities so that working class kids should "know their place". At Work and Pensions, IDS - perhaps well-intentioned, but about to preside over a car-crash of reforms. At Communities and Local Govt, the truly abominable Eric Pickles trying to destroy any semblance of local democracy we have left while encouraging local councils to be run like Ryanair. And at CMS, Jeremy Hunt trying to destroy the BBC while creating a UK version of Fox News.
Is Labour's shadow team up to the job in these five key areas? Healey - probably. Burnham - yes. Douglas Alexander - probably. With Caroline Flint and Ivan Lewis I just don't know enough to say. I hope Ed Miliband does because this is make-or-break stuff: I can't emphasise enough how important it is that Labour wins the next election. Because it's gonna be a hell of a lot harder to reverse the huge damage that the ConDems are doing to Britain in 2020 than it is in 2015. No-one should be under any illusions about this.
More on those five key areas as the current parliamentary session unfolds.