The general election in Britain is next year and Labor leads the divided conservatives. In the polls they pear to have achieved an election as important and majority as that of Tony Blair and New Labor in 1997. Is the kingdom on the verge of a new stage of “Cool Britannia”?
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, is preparing to fight his big battle. This highly regarded lawyer, human rights specialist, former Crown attorney and millionaire has decided to reorganize his shadow cabinet for combat. He has promoted Blairite reformers to key positions in his new cabinet, in his last major reshuffle before next year’s general election.
The Labor leader promoted ideological allies and marginalized the soft left and those he perceived as underperforming, in a series of changes that underlined his current political strength.
“Not even Tony Blair had so many Blairites in his cabinet.” So a Labor MP got to the heart of a shadow cabinet reshuffle that has demonstrated Starmer’s authority. But also the most dramatic political metamorphosis in recent party political history, compared to a conservatism divided between Brexit and pro-Europeansfor migration and the northern red Labor, who voted for them for Brexit and are now abandoning them.
The opposition leader has decided to begin this new parliamentary term with a team reshuffle, which will take the Labor Party into an election that it seems very likely to win. The media had begun to privately complain about Starmer’s hesitancy.
These criticisms have been repeated throughout his leadership. The reorganization was widely expected. Many of his current shadow ministers will be in government within 13 months.
It was the future of Angela Rayner, the party’s number two, that had been the subject of the most feverish speculation. And no wonder Starmer’s advisers were so keen to emphasize that only her pointment to a new position, in addition to her elected seat as an MP, would give them room for wider changes.
In May 2021, just after Labour’s catastrophic defeat in the Hartlepool by-election, Starmer’s first reshuffle as leader was derailed.
This time, however, the negotiations took place in private, with Starmer in a position of strength. Rayner’s decision to follow Michael Gove in his promotion (an extensive internal assignment more or less analogous to that of John Prescott during Tony Blair’s government) was executed without a hint of dissent.
Lisa Nandy ended up being collateral damage, demoted from secretary of state for foreign affairs to international development. The fact that a former shadow foreign secretary and leadership candidate willingly accepted and made no public fuss about her pointment to a mandate, which is unlikely to even exist as an independent ministry under a Labor government, is further testimony of Starmer’s stature and authority.
Starmer was not elected as New Labour, but will govern as New Labour. Literally: five members of his shadow cabinet were special advisers during the Blair government.
The former prime minister’s most loyal disciple, Pat McFadden, has been promoted to run the Labor campaigns, with a Brownist deputy in Jonathan Ashworth the designated attacker of the new operation.
Blairite Liz Kendall, whose 2015 leadership campaign ended with 4.5 per cent of the vote, is now responsible for welfare policy, which offends the statist sensibilities of Labor activists and affiliated unions. And Hilary Benn, one of the few survivors of the Blair and Brown cabinets, has been given responsibility for Northern Ireland.
Newer faces such as Darren Jones, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, and Shabana Mahmood, the much-respected shadow justice secretary, are also firmly on Labour’s right. The left is defeated, the soft left weakened. Add in the few who stayed, such as Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, and this is a team that will mean what it says on fiscal rectitude and service reform public.
But it is not the kind of team Starmer pointed in 2020. Nor is it the leader his most powerful shadow ministers wanted at the time.
Of the close personal allies he pointed to senior roles three years ago, only Nick Thomas-Symonds, now tasked with preparing the government as a shadow Cabinet Office minister alongside Sue Gray, is even vaguely close to anything resembling the can. Some suspect that this reshuffle actually bears the hallmarks of advisors far more certain of his loyalty to their faction than his director. But those tensions will only arise in government, if at all.
The fact that Starmer can make such radical changes without resistance reveals how certain the Labor Party is that it will end up in Downing Street.
Starmer also promoted Pat McFadden, who was Tony Blair’s political secretary, to a key role in overseeing Labour’s election campaign and its preparations for government.
McFadden’s pointment was a sign that Starmer was serious about public service reform in government and would act as a key adviser to the Labor leader, sources said.
Other Blairite figures to be promoted include Peter Kyle, who moves from the Northern Ireland mandate to become shadow science, technology and innovation secretary.
Starmer hired Darren Jones, who described Blair as his greatest political hero, to replace McFadden as chief secretary to the Treasury. Jones, 36, has never held a front-line position. But he was chairman of the business and commerce select committee.
The most high-profile change of the reorganization was the long-awaited move to give Angela Rayner, Starmer’s deputy, her own policy department. She becomes shadow equalization secretary, marking the Conservative Michael Gove.
Rayner replaced Lisa Nandy, considered a leading figure of the soft left, who was demoted to shadow international development minister.
Other members of the Left who will leave the shadow cabinet include Rosena Allin-Khan, who was shadow mental health minister, and Preet Gill, who held the international development role.
While the reshuffle was extensive in the lower ranks of the shadow cabinet, Starmer has kept those responsible for the five labor “missions”, which relate to economic growth, clean energy, the NHS, crime and removing barriers to opportunity.
Those elected to various positions
Ed Miliband remains climate change secretary, despite speculation he may have been moved. Starmer also retained Rachel Reeves, Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson as shadow chancellor, shadow health secretary and shadow education secretary respectively.
David Lammy remains shadow foreign secretary and Yvette Cooper shadow home secretary.
A Labor source denied the reshuffle was ideological. She said it was about ensuring “round pegs fit into round holes”. The source said: “It’s just about getting the best people into the right positions.”
“This reorganization answers a central question, which is that Britain deserves a government that wakes up every morning absolutely determined to solve the challenges we have and move our country forward,” said Starmer when pointing them.
“I think the important thing is to recognize that with this reorganization, we now have the strongest possible players on the field for what will be a crucial part of the journey,” he concluded.