With two of the three main parties in government Labour have the role of opposition largely to themselves for a while, so it was with particular interest that those of us in the world of tax and finance have been taking in news of the party’s new frontbench Treasury team, announced this week.
Alan Johnson’s appointment as Shadow Chancellor has been widely publicised. Asked by the BBC what his first move would be in the job, the former Home Secretary made light of his lack of Treasury experience by joking that it would be to "pick up a primer in economics for beginners". However he has not been slow to set out where he stands on the biggest economic issue of the moment, stating that his fiscal starting point will be Alistair Darling's plans to halve the deficit over four years.
Number two in Labour’s Treasury team will be Angela Eagle, the new Shadow Chief Secretary. Ms Eagle is the one member of the team with experience as a Treasury minister, having served as Exchequer Secretary from 2007-9, as well as having had several stints on the Public Accounts Committee and Treasury Select Committee. She is likely to have a high profile over the months ahead as Labour responds to the coalition’s spending review.
Roles have not yet been formally allocated to the remaining three members of the team, those outside Labour’s shadow cabinet. The most experienced of the three is David Hanson, a Welsh Labour MP who was previously Minister of State at the Home Office dealing with counter-terrorism issues. He was Alistair Darling’s PPS in 1997 when Darling was Chief Secretary and Tony Blair’s PPS from 2001-5. Before being elected an MP he was a charity director. He has relatively little financial background though he did spend a year on the Public Accounts Committee in 1997-8. He was drafted in to Labour’s Treasury team after the election.
Chris Leslie was a research assistant before becoming ‘Baby of the House’ (youngest MP) when elected in 1997 at the age of 25. He was a junior minister dealing with constitutional issues before losing his seat in 2005. Out of Parliament he was director of a think-tank and also led Gordon Brown's successful (though uncontested) campaign for leadership of the Labour Party. He returned to Parliament in May 2010 since when he has spoken extensively and combatively on finance issues, warning that “a strong dollop of dogma has been introduced into the Government's financial strategies” and accusing them of being “more interested in helping the wealthiest and putting obstacles in the way of the least well-paid”.
Kerry McCarthy was elected to Parliament in 2005 and has served on the Treasury Select Committee as well as two Finance Bill committees. She has not served as a minister but was a PPS at health and international development. She is lead contact for the End Child Poverty campaign amongst Labour MPs in parliament and has been vocal on issues affecting the low paid, such as tax credits.
Stephen Timms, who was Financial Secretary and minister for tax in the last Parliament, has been reshuffled to a role in Labour’s Work and Pensions team.
The CIOT engages with politicians from all parties, in and out of government, in pursuit of our aim of achieving a better, more efficient tax system for all affected by it – taxpayers, their advisers and the authorities. A vigilant opposition ready to ask difficult questions and hold the government to account is part of a healthy parliamentary system. We look forward to working with the new Labour Treasury team as we worked with their predecessors and with their opposite numbers in the other parties.
CIOT External Relations Manager