By Sarina Kiayani, Member of Keir Starmer’s Leadership Campaign Team and Public Affairs Graduate at FleishmanHillard Fishburn
After storming Labour’s leadership contest with 56% of the vote, Sir Keir Starmer immediately focused on putting together his new frontbench – and what an overhaul this was. Starmer’s set of appointments not only removed the grip of Corbynism but affirmed his position as a “unity” leader who pulled the best and brightest talent from across the party into his top team.
Firstly, it should not be underplayed just how far-reaching this reshuffle was, with only a select few MPs keeping their positions. These include Luke Pollard (Shadow Environment Secretary), Jonathan Ashworth (Shadow Health Secretary), Angela Smith (Shadow Leader of the House of Lords) and Nick Brown (Chief Whip). As Keir Starmer implements his plans to take Labour in a new direction, these remaining members will be crucial in providing an element of stability. This is particularly true of Ashworth and Pollard, whose portfolios have been completely transformed in recent weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, whilst the reshuffle was far-reaching, that is not to say the new Shadow Cabinet is inexperienced. Indeed, the reshuffle was notable for marking the return of prominent parliamentarians who had resigned from the Labour frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn, including David Lammy as Shadow Justice Secretary and Starmer’s leadership rival, Lisa Nandy, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. This, combined with the return of former party leader Ed Miliband as Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, means that Labour’s top team is stacked full of bona fide political personalities in their own right. Members such as Lammy and Miliband also have experience of being in Government, which is a distant memory for the party today. These factors will only help Labour as it fights for headlines in the press and influence in SW1.
Another significant takeaway from this reshuffle is the promotion of young talent to prominent positions. The role of Shadow Chancellor is a major step up for former Shadow Financial Secretary Anneliese Dodds, who only entered Parliament in 2017 and is well-regarded by all wings of the party with her wealth of financial knowledge. Similarly, the decision to give Nick Thomas-Symonds the role of Shadow Home Secretary is a bold one given his relative youth and inexperience. It is these promotions, more than any other, that demonstrate Starmer’s ambition to create a new Labour Party, one unconstrained by past defeats and ready to build a new relationship with the electorate. This is further evidenced by Starmer’s decision to ensure that his top team draws as much talent as possible from the regions: he is acutely aware that Labour needs to reconnect with traditional voters in Wales, Scotland and the North of England if it is to win back power.
If Starmer’s move to promote young talent is indicative of his ambition to change the party’s image, his decision to purge the Shadow Cabinet of Corbyn supporters is an indication of what sort of image he would ultimately like to portray. By demoting leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey to Shadow Education Secretary and sacking Dan Carden, Richard Burgon, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery completely, Starmer has dispensed with several high-profile loyalists to the previous leadership. Whilst it is tempting to read this as a rejection of the doctrine of Corbynism, this would be wide off the mark. The thing the aforementioned MPs have in common is not a shared ideology, but rather close links to Unite the Union, its boss Len McCluskey and his allies Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary, and Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s longtime chief of staff. McCluskey’s dislike of Starmer is no secret, and Starmer’s purge of McCluskey’s backers is another indication of his wrenching the party from the Left’s control.
Starmer told members that he would build on Corbynite policies whilst implementing institutional change. His new Shadow Cabinet demonstrates that he intends to do just that. By sacking those who sustained Corbyn’s institutional hegemony and reinvigorating the Cabinet with a blend of youth and experience from the soft left of the Party, he is making good on his promise to members. With most of the party standing behind a single candidate for the first time in nearly five years, could the new Shadow Cabinet be Starmer’s first step towards Number 10? Only time will tell if the country sits up and takes notice.
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