Q&A: Labour's shadow cabinet elections

Labour are holding their first shadow cabinet elections since 1996. Here's a guide to the process:

Who is being elected?

There are 19 seats at the shadow cabinet table up for grabs in the elections. These do not include leader Ed Miliband and deputy leader Harriet Harman who have already been elected to their positions. A separate ballot to elect the chief whip in the House of Commons - the first time this has happened - will also take place. Labour's leader in the House of Lords, its chief whip in the Upper House and the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party also sit in the shadow cabinet but are not included in these elections.

How will the process work?

Labour MPs have put their names forward for the ballot and did not need to be nominated. Only Labour MPs are allowed to vote in the contest. The 19 who get the most votes are duly elected. However, they are not elected to specific positions. Once the results are declared, new leader Ed Miliband will decide who should fill which job. The focus then will be on the key positions of shadow chancellor, shadow home secretary and shadow foreign secretary.

Who is standing?

Forty nine Labour MPs are competing for 19 spots. These include unsuccessful Labour leadership contenders Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham, former home secretary Alan Johnson and a number of ex-Cabinet ministers including Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander, Tessa Jowell, Peter Hain, Hilary Benn and John Denham. A host of junior ministers from the last Labour government also put their names forward. Outgoing Labour Party Treasurer and former top union official Jack Dromey has ruled himself out this time around. Rosie Winterton is the only MP standing in the separate ballot for chief whip, after Ed Miliband asked current chief whip Nick Brown not to stand.

Who is not standing?

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling, Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Former Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth have all said they want to return to the backbenches after long years of ministerial service.

What about David Miliband?

After days of intense speculation when he narrowly lost the leadership contest to his brother Ed, the former foreign secretary has said he will return to the backbenches. He told the BBC his brother needed "a clean field" to lead the party in the way he saw fit "without anyone saying that there are distractions because I'm there". Senior colleagues had urged him to remain on the frontbench.

How many women will make it in?

More than the three members - Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Tessa Jowell - of the last Labour Cabinet. Under rules agreed earlier this month, there must be a minimum of six women in the shadow cabinet, equivalent to 31.5% of its total membership. This is broadly in proportion with the number of female Labour MPs in the parliamentary party. Among prominent female MPs standing are former ministers Caroline Flint and Rosie Winterton and sisters Angela and Maria Eagle. Former Cabinet minister Hazel Blears has ruled herself out but Diane Abbott, who came fifth in the leadership election, is standing.

Have Labour always done it this way?

Unlike the Conservatives, Labour have historically elected their shadow cabinets while in opposition. Following a consultation earlier this month, MPs rejected proposals to allow the leader to appoint whoever he likes as happens when Labour are in government. A proposal to reduce the number of shadow cabinet posts to 16, or even 12, was also thrown out but MPs did decide to limit elections to every two years. Before Labour came to power in 1997, elections were held every year.

What is the significance of the elections?

The elections will be closely watched as a sign of the political balance of the shadow cabinet and the likely direction of the party. People will be looking out for what happens to key supporters of Ed Miliband and also those who backed David Miliband during the leadership contest. The elections may also be a guide to whose careers are on the rise and whose are on the wane as Labour faces the prospect of up to five years in opposition. But most attention is likely to focus on who is given the key job of shadow chancellor as Labour prepares to respond to the government's spending review announcement on 20 October. Ed Balls is known to covet the job and Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper have also been mentioned as possible contenders.

When will we know the results?

Voting will take place between 4 and 7 October. The results will be announced at 9pm on 7 October. Ed Miliband will then put together his team before Parliament returns after the party conference season on 11 October.

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