A Proper Opposition is Taking Shape

Keir Starmer risked sparking a rift within the Labour Party when a reshuffle to his Shadow Cabinet was announced on Monday morning, seemingly blindsiding Angela Rayner who was giving a speech to the Institute for Government on clearing up sleaze when news of the reshuffle broke.

Rayner was only informed of the reshuffle an hour before it happened, which contradicted media interviews just before where she said, “I reckon Keir would tell me first”. Her allies were understandably furious about its timing as it overshadowed her speech. Even so, for the second time in six months, we waited to see whether she was being ousted and would refuse to move. However, she was one of few to remain in post, although she did lose some of her ‘titles’.

After months of failing to cut through to voters and ‘missing open goals’ from Government mistakes, Starmer undertook a major shaking up of his frontbench to capitalise on recent good press. It was a statement of intent from the Labour leader, with MPs moving to departments suiting their skills and some much-needed ministerial experience coming to the fore. The ghost of Corbyn will continue to loom over the Party for some time, as we saw at the Party Conference in September, but this new Blairite bunch absolves any doubt over Starmer’s politics and the direction he believes is best placed to win an election.

Among the biggest movers were Yvette Cooper to Shadow Home Secretary. As Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee she has an impressive reputation as an inquisitor, and she will be immediately thrust into the spotlight as the migrant crisis dominates politics. Nick Thomas-Symonds had struggled to take the fight to Priti Patel, and Cooper’s previous statements in favour of tighter immigration controls may appeal to more swing voters. Expect fireworks with Patel and Cooper at the despatch boxes.  

The move of Lisa Nandy to Shadow Michael Gove is also interesting. There will be added pressure on the Government to deliver on its levelling-up agenda now that a long-time, vocal advocate for fairer opportunity across the country is in post. Her move would normally be seen as a demotion, but the next general election will have significant focus on the Government’s progress in equalising opportunity across the country.

Elsewhere, David Lammy was given the Shadow Foreign Office brief, and Wes Streeting went to Health having recovered from his cancer surgery earlier this year. Bridget Phillipson was also brought into Education in place of Kate Green. Emily Thornberry moved from International Trade to Shadow Attorney General as Lord Falconer was sacked.

Ed Miliband was demoted after his disagreements with Starmer on energy nationalisation, he is now only responsible for climate change and net-zero, and Jonathan Ashworth was similarly relegated to Work and Pensions. The last Corbynite, Cat Smith, resigned before she was sacked and criticised Starmer for not re-admitting Corbyn into the Party on her way out.

Undoubtedly this frontbench now looks more like a government-in-waiting than it did on Friday, a mix of Labour’s best and brightest with those experienced. But Starmer still faces the significant challenge of turning the polls more considerably in his favour, and any moves to do this will risk infighting with the Labour left. That being said, he appears as though he is ready for the fight.