One of the big question marks over Andy Burnham’s Labour leadership bid was over his performance in the Health brief. He did well enough (or Lansley did badly enough) for Andrew Lansley to have to be moved, but failed to land enough blows on Jeremy Hunt (who had himself struggled at Culture over his links to Murdoch). Post-election reports suggest that Burnham’s plans for the health service, including the Time for Care initiative, simply didn’t strike a chord with the electorate. It’ll be interesting to see how he does with the difficult Home role while battling against personal attacks from The Sun.
Meanwhile, the Health portfolio has gone to Heidi Alexander. It’s a pretty big bump for the Lewisham East MP, who entered the Commons in 2010 and who has had stints in the Environment, whips and London teams. But if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is putting people power front and centre, then Alexander looks like a pretty shrewd choice. Back in 2012, proposals were made to close Lewisham Hospital’s highly-regarded A and E department in order to bail out another hospital. Jeremy Hunt ratified the proposals but was ultimately beaten in the High Court. A look at the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign website shows enthusiasm for the part that Heidi Alexander played in the campaign.
One of New Labour’s Achilles heels was the often seemingly-paranoid control freakery from the party’s top brass: think about the ludicrous and ultimately self-defeating attempts to impose Frank Dobson and Alun Michael over Ken Livingstone and Rhodri Morgan respectively. Labour will need more than local campaigns to re-establish themselves as a fully-functioning opposition but given the hollowing-out of the party in so many areas during the last decade, an appointment like this is pretty astute. If John McDonnell’s appointment disappointed many as it smacked as the kind of chumocracy that Corbynism sets its face against, Heidi Alexander’s new promotion will be welcomed.
Oh and here’s a joke that isn’t doing the rounds. Jeremy Corbyn has appointed 16 women to his shadow cabinet, but none has got one of the ‘great offices of state’. Of course, Jeremy is not previously known for being a team player in the Parliamentary Labour Party. And one cock-up theory is that there was a plan for a woman at the foreign office, but Jeremy had never met Hilary and didn’t realise he is a man.