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Phil Collins: Does Starmer’s reshuffle signify a rebalancing?

5 Sept 2023

First published in Political Capital - our weekly public affairs and polling news drop.

Lansonsx Phil Collins Starmer Re Shuffle

Philip Collins, Founder of The Draft, speechwriter to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior advisor to Lansons discusses the implications of yesterday's Labour reshuffle and what this signifies ahead of the next general election.

Phil Collins Lansons Advisor
Phil Collins
Senior Advisor to Lansons

A good way to understand how far Keir Starmer has come in a short time is to look at the team around him and compare it to the team he appointed on becoming leader of the Labour party.

Starmer, strange to say for a man who is leader of the opposition, was not steeped and schooled in politics. Colleagues often lamented of him that “he has no politics” by which they meant that he didn’t fully appreciate what it would take to put the Labour party in a winning position.

His initial team reflected that and also the fact that, at 20 points behind in the opinion polls, taking a job in the shadow cabinet (still less in the leader’s office) didn’t seem like such a smart career move. Anneliese Dodds went straight from obscurity to be Shadow Chancellor. Nick Thomas-Symonds was Shadow Home Secretary. Lisa Nandy was Shadow Foreign Secretary. Ed Miliband was Business Secretary as well as taking the climate change brief. It was a shadow cabinet staffed from the soft left which was where Starmer’s political authority was then located.

Not any more. 

Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, Wes Streeting, Peter Kyle and Pat McFadden are all figures from the centre or the right of the party who would have been brought into the fold before today and this reshuffle continued the process, which has been evident since Starmer became leader, of moving closer and closer to being a serious proposition as a putative government.

 

There is no doubt that today’s reshuffle strengthens the team. 

Angela Rayner has been given a real job, at Levelling Up, which means that Lisa Nandy is now going to be, in effect, the number two at the Foreign Office, the department she might once have hoped to lead. 

Liz Kendall, once upon a time the doomed Blairite in the leadership contest, comes in at Work and Pensions. 

Peter Kyle is a good choice to take the Science brief which has been vacant. Kyle is one of the more thoughtful and active of the shadow cabinet and will see the brief as a way Labour can tell a story about the future of the country. 

Darren Jones, who was widely touted for that position, not least by himself, instead becomes the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The wise old veteran of Labour politics, Pat McFadden, becomes the election supremo, a post vacated by the impressive Shabana Mahmood who moves to Justice, with Steve Reed heading to Defra.

The point about all of these moves is that, first, the better people are being promoted and that, second, most of the better people just happen to be on the centre and right of the party.  

 

This is quiet rebalancing of the shadow cabinet and a notable increase in its capacity.

There are things with which one might quibble. Ed Miliband infuriates his colleagues with unsanctioned sorties into unaffordable policies and there were hints that he might be disciplined. But in sum - and bearing in mind that talent is not abundant on the back benches – Starmer has played his hand well. Maybe he does have some politics after all.        

    

   

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