30 Nov 2021

Political Insider: The Labour Reshuffle

Since winning the Labour leadership election, Sir Keir Starmer has been at pains to emphasise how seriously he takes winning the next election and becoming Prime Minister.


However, until now, Sir Keir hasn’t had the opportunity to stamp his authority on the party and shape the Shadow Cabinet in his own image. That changed with yesterday’s wide-ranging and much more extensive than expected reshuffle; the ultimate outcome of which was to promote Labour’s strongest Parliamentary and media performers, almost exclusively moderates, to senior positions.

Learning from the botched reshuffle in May – which was more widely known for the power struggle that emerged with his Deputy, Angela Rayner – yesterday’s reshuffle showed that Starmer is emboldened in his position and is no longer nervous about making some of the necessary changes required to make the Labour Party electable again.

No more is this evident than the very timing of the announcement, with news of the reshuffle leaking out just as Angela Rayner was preparing to deliver a keynote speech on standards in public life. While initially blindsided by the news, Rayner publicly approached the reshuffle with good grace – although today’s papers are well-briefed that she expected to be part of any reshuffle discussion…

Ed Miliband’s demotion from Shadow Business to a slimmed down Shadow Climate Change position was a shot across the bows for the former Leader who ruffled feathers with his recent book outlining a policy prescription to ‘go big’ and who clashed with the incumbent during party conference. Jonathan Reynolds, well-liked by business leaders in his previous Shadow Treasury position, replaces him.

The most prominent appointment is the return of Yvette Cooper to frontbench politics as Shadow Home Secretary. As one of Labour’s most formidable performers, Cooper brings necessary heft to Labour’s top team and is an importantly recognisable figure to the general public.

Meanwhile, Lisa Nandy was technically demoted from Shadow Foreign Secretary to shadow Michael Gove at the Levelling Up Department, but it is hard to find anybody in Westminster who doesn’t agree that this is a better use of her talents. Needless to say, this role will encompass one of the key policy battlegrounds of the next election. David Lammy, another Commons top performer, replaces her at Shadow FCO.

Yesterday’s promotions weren’t just for seasoned veterans. Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson were both promoted from junior shadow ministerial positions to Shadow Health and Shadow Education, respectively – suggesting that Starmer has an eye on the next generation. Expect both to be prominent media spokespeople for Labour in the years to come.

We are potentially only eighteen months away from a general election. Starmer has decided to put in place the team he wants to present to the country as the next government. Yesterday’s reshuffle went a long way to demonstrating that a more competent, moderate, and dare I say, new Labour Party is emerging from a torrid few years for the official opposition.

Nobody doubts that Labour still has a long way to go. Starmer’s dismissal of the left of the party and continued battles over matters such as the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn could cause him serious internal headaches in the future. His assessment, however, is that now is the time to turn away from these internal issues and face the public. With the government’s poll lead faltering, a series of by-elections in the offing and significant policy challenges ramping up, yesterday’s reshuffle may in the future be seen as a decisive moment on Labour’s path back to power.

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