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New(ish) Labour resurgence

Keir Starmer
By Charlie Rattigan
05 September 2023
Public Affairs

Yesterday, the long-awaited reshuffle of the shadow cabinet took place. Like Gareth Southgate and his selection process for England, Sir Keir Starmer utilised the summer recess to carefully contemplate and assemble his optimal Labour team as the forthcoming general election draws ever closer. The Labour leader stated he was putting his “strongest possible players on the pitch”.

Headline news is that Angela Rayner has been appointed as Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up, taking over the role previously held by one-time leadership contender Lisa Nandy, who has assumed the position of Shadow Minister for International Development, a post that does not even have a government ministry to shadow since the Conservatives merged it with the Foreign Office in 2020.

Rayner, a prominent figure on the party’s left, has had her clashes with centrist Starmer as he continues his efforts to drag the party into the centre ground. Nevertheless, Rayner’s move into a high-profile departmental brief and official naming as “shadow deputy prime minister” firmly underscores her status as Starmer’s number two.

Changes in the middle of the park reflect a big win for Labour’s “Blairite” faction, which now appears to be a formidable presence. Notably, former special advisers from the Blair era, Liz Kendall and Peter Kyle, have been entrusted with pivotal roles: Kendall overseeing the realm of work and pensions, while Kyle takes charge of tech policy.

At the very top, prominent centrist figures such as Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy retained their positions. Pat McFadden, another prominent Blair-era adviser, is now Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. He will play a huge role in the upcoming election battle and become a key figure in policy implementation if Labour does come to power next year.

It appears that Starmer is methodically reshaping the landscape of the "soft left" faction from the class of 2020. Lisa Nandy and Nick Thomas-Symonds, who were considered rising stars three years ago, have both been shuffled down the pecking order in the shadow cabinet.

Despite being out of power for 16 years, Tony Blair’s legacy continues to reverberate throughout British politics, with David Linden, a Scottish National Party MP, describing the reshuffle as “proper Blairism on steroids.”

As the countdown to the upcoming general election continues, this latest reshuffle marks a notable shift in the party's strategic direction. While Starmer had previously exercised caution by retaining some left-leaning party members in prominent shadow cabinet positions, he has now taken a decisive stride in building his optimal and preferred lineup to go into the election fight with.

The ‘keep your friends closer’ approach also appears to be Rishi Sunak’s strategy, with the promotion of two of his closest allies – Grant Shapps and Claire Coutinho – last week ahead of a more substantial post-conference reshuffle.

The big question is whether the increasingly centrist narrative put forward by the Labour Party will resonate with the party internally and the public in an era where British politics has been increasingly dominated by populism.