Keir’s future Cabinet: ready to govern?

By Atticus Partners

Returning from summer recess, Sir Keir Starmer kicked off the new parliamentary session with a shake-up of his Shadow Cabinet. An anticipated but expected component of Labour’s efforts to position itself as the next government in waiting, Starmer appointed a number of veteran members of the former Labour government, promoted several key figures on the right of party, and demoted former leadership rival Lisa Nandy.

Nandy, who ran for Labour leader in the 2020 contest, moves from the Levelling Up and Housing brief to become Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development. Given the UK’s international development department no longer exists after the Conservatives merged it with the Foreign Office in 2020, this move will be seen to many in Westminster as a demotion for Nandy, with no minister to shadow within the role.

Taking over Nandy’s former role as Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, deputy party leader Angela Rayner was also formally appointed as the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister. Peter Kyle’s appointment as Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, confirms Labour’s intentions to mirror the government department positions to some degree. Hillary Benn, who was a Secretary of State in the Labour governments under Blair and Brown, is returning to the frontbenches to replace Kyle as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Steve Reed is the new Shadow Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, which was vacated as a result of Jim McMahon’s resignation prior to the reshuffle commencing. Reed has been vocal in recent months on a number of topics related to the brief, including water, energy supply and the environment. He was also one of the first MPs to come out against a London-wide Ultra Low Emission Zone following the by-election loss in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Shabana Mahmood has been appointed Shadow Justice Secretary to replace Reed.

Pat McFadden has been appointed as the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and National Campaign Coordinator. Serving as a government minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 2005-2010, McFadden is one of the most experienced MPs within the Labour team. Taking on the position of National Campaign Coordinator, he will be expected to bring his previous experience to the forefront ahead of the next election. 

Former leadership contender Liz Kendall has also received a vote in confidence, going from a junior shadow health minister to Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. Another leap to a full departmental brief was given to Thangam Debbonaire, who moved to Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport.

The appointment of Darren Jones as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is a significant one for Labour’s efforts to boost its economic credibility in the coming months. Often praised during his time as chair of the business and trade select committee - especially when it came to questioning prominent ministers – a promotion for Jones was somewhat guaranteed. 

The reshuffle has provided a strong move and statement by Starmer to urge his party back towards centre ground. With a Shadow Cabinet already emulating the front bench of the Government, Starmer will likely lead with this team into the next general election. Favouring key and experienced allies like Pat McFadden, Liz Kendall, and close-ally Nick Thomas-Symonds, whilst demoting and removing potential rivals, the shake-up is bound to ruffle a few feathers with the Conservative Party. Yet, with polls currently showing the Government almost 18% behind Labour, the question to be answered is whether Starmer’s new Shadow Cabinet can capitalise on this deficit or whether accusations of anonymity and ineffectiveness will continue to pervade.  

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