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One small step for Labour, one giant leap for Keir Starmer?

30 November 2021

By James Surallie

Following weeks of bad news for the government, and the Conservatives’ popularity plummeting in the polls, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer MP orchestrated an extensive reshuffle of his top team. After a somewhat rocky start to the reshuffle in the morning, with Deputy Leader Angela Rayner claiming that she was not “consulted” about any moves within the Shadow Cabinet, the Labour Leader made significant changes. Not only has the reshuffle signalled Starmer’s desire for Labour to be viewed as a “government in waiting”, bringing in more prominent and experienced names to the opposition frontbenches, he has also strengthened his grip on the party as leader.

Some of the standout moves during the latest reshuffle included the return of Yvette Cooper to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Home Secretary, after a six-year hiatus on the Labour backbenches; David Lammy being promoted to Shadow Foreign Secretary; and Lisa Nandy becoming the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling-Up. Although recent polls have now placed Labour ahead of the Conservatives, arguably little of this can be attributed to Labour’s strength as the Opposition; rather, it reveals the Conservatives’ current weaknesses. As a result, calling in some of Labour’s more well-known politicians shows Stamer’s intent to reach voters and mount a visible and public-facing challenge to government, particularly in areas where they have been criticised lately, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s struggle to tackle channel crossings from France.

Elsewhere, changes in the opposition cabinet saw Ed Miliband being de facto demoted from Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the newly created Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero. This move comes after reported clashes with Starmer on energy nationalisation. It’s worth noting that this new role doesn’t actually shadow an existing government department so Miliband’s time at the dispatch box has been curtailed. That being said, Starmer has used this as an opportunity to promote Labour’s serious intentions to tackle climate change and stated that Miliband will “develop Labour’s extensive plans for net zero”.  The move also signals Labour’s intentions to reinstate the abolished Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Cat Smith, former Shadow Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy, resigned from the Shadow Cabinet despite being offered to remain in her role. She citied her concerns over Jeremy Corbyn not being readmitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the damage this is causing to Labour members. Her departure will not be mourned by Starmer and his allies as it is another sign that the party under his leadership is moving away from the Coybrn-era. It would be wise however, for Starmer and his top team not to isolate the left entirely, particularly in the run up to the next election.

This reshuffle could therefore be seen as the catalyst that makes Starmer’s Labour Party a more credible opposition able to effectively challenge the Conservative Government, and  in turn, a party for whom the public is willing to vote for. Time will tell if the Leader of the Opposition has played the right cards at the correct time, but if he has, Starmer may just have taken his first big step towards the doors of No 10.