With little fanfare, a significant changing of the guard around Ed Miliband occurred earlier this week.
The Labour leader’s parliamentary private secretary, rising star Chuka Umunna, was given a new job as shadow minister for business & industry. According to Labour sources, John Denham was so impressed with Chuka’s work on the Treasury select committee that he personally requested the savvy Streatham MP on his team.
The vacant post as Ed Miliband’s PPS will be taken up by Gordon Brown’s former spinner Michael Dugher.
Dugher, recently elected as MP for Barnsley East, is not known as a shrinking violet. When he was Brown’s political spokesperson, a colleague of mine gave him a bell to check out the veracity of a story. ‘Unmitigated bollocks,’ was the gruff response. A Labour MP advises The Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column: ‘Michael is a rough and ready Northerner who knows how to drink pints of bitter.’
With Tom Baldwin in place as Labour’s director of strategy, some think that Ed Miliband is getting ready to play hardball. Speaking at an event I attended this week, hosted by Connect Communications, the Tory blogger-turned-radio host Iain Dale asserted that the Labour leader was now surrounded by ‘two thugs’.
The idea of nice guy Ed flanked by two burly hard men certainly has some comic appeal. However, Baldwin is yet to live up his reputation as a bruiser. The former Times hack’s most antagonistic act to date has been to ask broadcasters to consider using the phrase ‘Tory-led government’ from time to time. Not exactly Malcolm Tucker-esque.
As for Dugher, pals in the lobby are quick to point out that he is ‘charming’ and ‘affable’. One political editor tells me he is ‘definitely not a bully’. Dugher is more widely seen as a streetwise parliamentary fixer with a good eye for a story.
A former lobbyist, he’s particularly good at providing friendly journos with pithy soundbites. ‘One of the few MPs to actually get how papers work,’ is the verdict of one hack.
Perhaps he should be heading up the spin operation himself. But sources close to Dugher are keen to kill off that idea. They say he will help on political strategy, but insist there is no question of him treading on the toes of the party’s comms chiefs.