This weekend, the Labour Party turned the page on the Jeremy Corbyn era as Sir Keir Starmer was elected Leader of the party with a decisive victory in the first round of the contest. With more than 56% of the vote, the new leader gained a majority of the vote in all three sections of the Labour electorate – amongst members, registered supporters and the affiliates. Angela Rayner was elected Deputy Leader and shortly afterwards appointed as Party Chair by Keir Starmer, a key role as Labour begins the long march back from its election drubbing last December – its worst result since 1935.
The favoured candidates of Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon received roughly a quarter of the vote in the Leader and Deputy elections and a sense that the hard left is now in retreat was confirmed in the election of moderate candidates for all three vacancies on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee. Yet, although this is a departure from recent years, the position of the mainstream forces within the party should not be overstated. A significant part of the membership – and some MPs, including new ones elected despite the Conservative landslide – still believe that Jeremy Corbyn was a successful leader.
This election comes at a time of crisis for the country and Keir Starmer’s statement and interviews following his victory necessarily focussed on the challenge of Covid-19. The new Labour leader said that he would “engage constructively” with the government over the coronavirus crisis and would do so in the spirit of ensuring better government. Implicitly drawing a contrast with his predecessor, he said that he would acknowledge where the Conservative government was getting it right, but that also meant asking the government “difficult questions” on issues such as coronavirus testing and the availability of protective equipment for health and social care workers. He called for the government publish its “exit strategy” to end the lockdown and to prepare a plan for vaccination.
Clearly hoping to draw a line under an era which had brought shame to the Labour Party and a formal enquiry from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Sir Keir issued an immediate apology to the Jewish community and vowed to tear out the poison of anti-Semitism “by its roots”. Party insiders expect early and decisive action to follow this clear statement of intent.
A number of those closest to Jeremy Corbyn such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott had already indicated that they would be leaving the Shadow Cabinet, deciding to jump rather than waiting for the inevitable push. Those who hadn’t got the memo, including Barry Gardiner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon and Shami Chakrabarti, were politely, but firmly, shown the door.
In their place has come a new generation, mostly in their late 30s and early 40s, some better known than others. Anneliese Dodds, the new as Shadow Chancellor, is relatively unknown outside Westminster, but is highly rated by those who have worked with her. Her appointment has been welcomed across all wings of the party, but in time she will have to make decisions that disappoint at least some of those who have praised her today.
Other key appointments include the quietly effective Nick Thomas-Symonds as Shadow Home Secretary and Rachel Reeves, the Chair of the BEIS Select Committee who will shadow Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office. Lisa Nandy would appear to have been given a big role as Shadow Foreign Secretary, but perhaps a domestic portfolio would have been a better use of one of Labour’s most effective media performers.
A more known quantity outside SW1, if something of a surprise appointment, is Ed Miliband as Shadow Business Secretary. Some business voices will be wary, given his record as Labour leader epitomised by his “producers v predators” conference speech. Others will point out that many of his policies such as the energy price freeze were later adopted by a Conservative government. He certainly brings government experience to the team, specifically in relation to climate change (a key part of his new portfolio) having steered the UK’s first Climate Change Act through parliament back in 2008. But undoubtedly Keir Starmer has taken something of a gamble. There is always a risk in having a former leader in the team, but in addition many hold Ed Miliband responsible for the start of Labour’s drift to the left. William Hague showed that it is possible for a former Leader of the Opposition to be seen in a new light on return to the front-bench, to play a constructive role and leave with an enhanced reputation, but his is not an easy act to follow.
As a whole, the Shadow Cabinet reflects the mainstream of the party, although few could be characterised at this stage as hard-edged modernisers. They are a serious group however who will command respect, including from their Conservative counterparts. Expect constructive engagement in these unusual times between Ministers and their Shadows across departments in a way that would have been unthinkable just last week when Jeremy Corbyn was at the helm.
But when normal politics resumes – and it will – the challenge for this Shadow Cabinet is not just to make Labour a plausible option again, but to set out an analysis and policy prescription that is compelling enough to the British electorate to overcome an electoral challenge of winning 125 seats to form a government. Across Europe the centre-left has been in retreat since the financial crisis. With a Conservative government pulling on every lever of the state to ameliorate the financial impact of the Coronavirus crisis, could this black swan event turn the political tide in Labour’s favour?
The positions in the Shadow Cabinet are:
- Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition
- Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party
- Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary
- Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary
- Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- David Lammy, Shadow Justice Secretary
- John Healey, Shadow Defence Secretary
- Ed Miliband, Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary
- Emily Thornberry, Shadow International Trade Secretary
- Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
- Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
- Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Education Secretary
- Jo Stevens, Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
- Bridget Philipson, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
- Luke Pollard, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary
- Steve Reed, Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary
- Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Housing Secretary
- Jim McMahon, Shadow Transport Secretary
- Preet Kaur Gill, Shadow International Development Secretary
- Louise Haigh, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary (interim)
- Ian Murray, Shadow Scotland Secretary
- Nia Griffith, Shadow Wales Secretary
- Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary
- Andy McDonald, Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary
- Rosena Allin-Khan, Shadow Minister for Mental Health
- Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement
- Lord Falconer, Shadow Attorney General
- Valerie Vaz, Shadow Leader of the House
- Nick Brown, Opposition Chief Whip
- Baroness Smith, Shadow Leader of the Lords
- Lord McAvoy, Lords’ Opposition Chief Whip
For further advice and support or if you have any questions, please contact Razi Rahman, Partner and Head of Political at Maitland/AMO, on email@example.com