Andrew Whitaker: Labour has few big-hitters today, so Ed Miliband must learn to punch above his weight

ED MILIBAND has had what was probably been his worst ten days as Labour leader, with the “Blackbusters” gaffe and endless speculation about his future.

Mr Miliband has arguably taken a much worse battering than he deserves, given his relative success at uniting the previously warring factions of Labour in the aftermath of the 2010 general election defeat.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that Mr Miliband’s shadow cabinet does not contain any figures of real stature, with the possible exception of shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

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True, Mr Miliband has a couple of rising stars, such as shadow chief Treasury secretary and former economist Rachel Reeves, as well as shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna. But the team Mr Miliband has to work with doesn’t compare to the quality of the line-up most of his predecessors had as Labour leader.

It’s only necessary to go back to John Smith’s tenure as leader in the early 1990s to look at some of the political heavyweights the party at Westminster was then blessed with. Figures such as the late Robin Cook, Gordon Brown, when he was on the political up, and David Blunkett.

To go further back in Labour history, during Harold Wilson and James Callaghan’s governments in the 1960s and 1970s, the cabinet boasted towering figures such as Tony Benn and Denis Healey – Second World War veterans who saw action as a pilot officer and army major respectively.

Then there was the late Michael Foot, who had served as editor of the London Evening Standard, as well as establishing a reputation as a highly skilled parliamentarian.

Other names from yesteryear that spring to mind include Tony Crosland, who, as education secretary, pushed through the near abolition of the highly elitist and selective grammar school system and 11-plus exams, as well as writing the highly influential Labour tract The Future of Socialism.

Roy Hattersley, who was later to become Labour’s deputy leader, never occupied a senior cabinet post, such was the depth of talent the then Labour leaders had to work with.

Mr Miliband can only dream of a line-up even approaching that quality, something that weakens his leadership and makes his task that much harder.

For the moment, there’s very little Mr Miliband can do to address this, except perhaps hope some of his rising stars blossom into political heavyweights.

One way Mr Miliband can take some of the political pressure off himself would be for him to start putting some meat on the bones of his pledges to address the huge inequality in society and excessive pay in boardrooms.

But Mr Miliband is not alone in having to live with a lack of real front-bench talent. Labour at Holyrood is an obvious case in point, with no sign whatsoever of anyone resembling the political giants of yesteryear, such as Mr Cook, Mr Smith, the young Mr Brown and Donald Dewar.