The Blog

Experienced Labour: The Labour Frontbench 2010-15

Ministerial stability is important: it allows ministers to build up experience and maintain focus. The same could be said for Opposition frontbenchers, who have to balance long-term policy development with other commitments (like responding to media stories) and without the benefit of the Civil Service. The coming weeks could see big changes to the shadow cabinet, but change is a feature of any frontbench team as people are shuffled in and out. Just how stable was the Opposition frontbench under Ed Miliband during the 2010-15 Parliament?

Only one Shadow Secretary of State remained in the same post for the whole of Ed Miliband's leadership.

Of all shadow secretaries of state only Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, was in the same post when Ed Miliband appointed his first Shadow Cabinet in October 2010 and at the 2015 General Election. Twelve shadow teams were headed by two different people during the Parliament, while there were five different Shadow Ministers for the Cabinet Office. Rosie Winterton, the chief whip, also served the full term, as did leader Ed Miliband and deputy leader (and shadow deputy prime minister) Harriet Harman.

We can distinguish between forced reshuffles - where a resignation forces the leader to reshuffle their team - and unforced reshuffles, where the leader chooses to do so. Ten shadow secretaries of state changed at Ed Miliband's first unforced reshuffle in October 2011. Significantly, this was the first time Miliband had a free choice, after the abolition of Shadow Cabinet elections earlier that year. These had allowed the Commons members of the Parliamentary Labour Party chose members of the Shadow Cabinet (though not their portfolios).

38 Secretaries of State faced 46 Shadow Secretaries of State in the last Parliament.

Comparing the number of Secretaries of State and Shadow Secretaries of State by department, the same number - nine - saw more stability in the government post as saw more stability in their shadow post while Ed Miliband was leader. The government ministers at Secretary of State or equivalent level to survive the full parliament all faced two or more Opposition equivalents - Osborne (2), May (2), Cable (2), Pickles (2), Duncan Smith (3) and Maude (5). Conversely, Sadiq Khan faced two counterparts.

Most striking is the turnover of Shadow Ministers for the Cabinet Office - Francis Maude faced five (Liam Byrne, Tessa Jowell, Jon Trickett, Michael Dugher and Lucy Powell) between October 2010 and May 2015. Maude's position enabled him to drive through a great deal of reform to the Civil Service and how government works. Labour had a high turnover in the post in government, when it was sometimes disparaged as 'minister for the Today programme' and not a 'proper' ministry (see the 13.43 update on our May 2015 live blog of the government formation).

15 members of the shadow front bench stayed in the same post from October 2010.

At the end of the 2010-15 parliament, ten shadow teams have a survivor from the initial appointment in October 2010, the same as government departments from May 2010.

Fifteen members (13%) of the current shadow frontbench were appointed when Ed Miliband first became leader in October 2010, and 35 (30%) came in at his first free choice in October 2011. The largest number - 45 (38%) - were appointed in 2013.

Gathering together this dataset was surprisingly difficult - the Labour Party does not appear to publish a list of its frontbench team on its website. Also, our data does not take account of where shadow ministers' briefs may have changed within a team (for example, when Helen Goodman added the arts portfolio to her existing media one at DCMS in October 2013), but only when they move between teams, or from junior minister to Shadow Secretary of State within their existing one.

Altogether, the four leadership candidates had 67 years' experience as MPs, 14 on select committees and 31 on the frontbench.

The four leadership candidates would each have brought a different set of parliamentary and governing experience to the role. The eventual winner, Jeremy Corbyn, has been an MP since 1983 but had never previously held a frontbench role. He has, though, served on select committees: nearly five years on the social security committee, four during the last parliament on the justice committee, and a few months on the short-lived London regional select committee. He is also the only candidate to have previously served as a local councillor.

Both Yvette Cooper (elected 1997) and Andy Burnham (2001) had a couple of years on select committees, before a succession of posts in government: Cooper (nine and a half years, in Health, Lord Chancellor's Department, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Treasury and DWP) and Burnham (five years, in Home Office, Health, Treasury and DCMS). Both had previously been advisers to the party, Cooper in opposition and Burnham in government. Liz Kendall, the most recently elected MP (2010), was also a special adviser to Labour in government, and has been in the shadow health team since October 2010. She became a member of the Shadow Cabinet in October 2011.