Wasted youth

Too much, too young? The new shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith has become the latest member of the 2010 Labour intake to clamber into the shadow Cabinet, joining Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves and Margaret Curran at the top table.

There's not a vast amount of excitement or angst to be had from Ed Miliband's second reshuffle, but there is the thought that the charge of the 2010 brigade shows that the rules have changed.

Once, MPs arrived in the Cabinet or shadow Cabinet after a stately progression over several years, through the whips office (Tony Blair insisted that future ministers be marinated in the world of the whips) and junior ministerial or shadow ministerial office.

Now bright young things are catapulted to the top.

Owen Smith MP
Owen Smith was elected Pontypridd MP in 2010

Is this a good idea? There's a long-standing complaint that too many of the top people in politics (in all the main parties) have spent most of their adult lives as special advisors and then as ministers. In the Commons, there's a different complaint: that there's an emerging political superclass of ex-SPADs (Mr Smith worked for ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy) and beautiful people who arrive in the House trailing clouds of glory, and barely dip their toes into the work of ordinary backbench folk before being summoned to the front bench.

Not for these favoured sons and daughters, the greybeards grumble, the long slog through gruelling public bill committees, and humdrum Westminster Hall debates. No fruitless hours on the backbenches failing to catch the Speaker's eye. You don't have to talk to many Commons footsloggers to realise there is a very real resentment at the patronage with which some have been favoured, but not them. A bit more drudgery in the ranks would have done 'em good...

This is not to say that the patronage is un-merited. I don't know anyone who argues that Messrs Smith and Umunna and Ms Reeves are not up to high office, or say they lack talent. They're uniformly impressive with the media and Ed Miliband seems to have taken a conscious policy decision to put fresh new faces in Labour's shop-window.

But you will hear murmurings that they - and other new intake members promoted to mid-level office - may be a bit undercooked; not sensitive to the cross currents of the Commons, lacking committee skills, technically ill-equipped for their role.

Of course, the counter-argument is that they have access to plenty of gnarled parliamentary veterans who can advise on tactics and procedure - and that, in any event, their prime focus has to be the electorate, rather than legislative micro-politics. That is particularly true of Mr Smith, who as shadow Welsh Secretary is shadowing a cabinet minister who has almost no executive responsibility, because it has all been transferred to the Welsh Assembly.

The same issues may soon confront David Cameron. Few expect sweeping changes to the coalition cabinet, but there is an expectation that Tory high-flyers from the 2010 intake will be elevated to junior and middle-ranking positions (with several ministers of state seen as dead men walking).

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