Fresh faces, few factions: Labour’s new shadow cabinet

Sienna Rodgers

Almost all of the Corbynites have been swept out of the shadow cabinet by new Labour leader Keir Starmer, but the newbies are not media favourites from the right of the party either. Lots of fresh faces have been brought in, mostly from slap bang in the middle of Labour.

These promoted MPs are neither the figureheads of factions (e.g. Alison McGovern) nor traditionally thought of as ‘big hitters’ (e.g. Yvette Cooper). It is a purge of the most vocal in the parliamentary party, in favour of the quietly competent. So, who are the new shadow cabinet members, and what do their appointments mean?

Anneliese Dodds, now Shadow Chancellor, ticks all the boxes that new leader Keir Starmer is keen to tick: competence, electability, party unity. Considered highly capable, she has served as a shadow Treasury minister since July 2017. She is also an excellent media performer – watch this clip from BBC Question Time during the election campaign. And she comes recommended by John McDonnell, despite not belonging to the Corbynite wing of the party herself. Tick, tick, tick. She is also, incredibly, the first woman to hold the post. This was the most uncontroversial pick among Starmer’s first batch of new shadow cabinet appointments.

Nick Thomas-Symonds is the one most likely to make you go… ‘who?’. Like Starmer, he is a barrister most celebrated in parliament for his performances at the despatch box. As shadow solicitor general sitting in the Commons rather than the Lords, he stood in for Baroness Chakrabarti and gained plenty of experience opposing Geoffrey Cox. Thomas-Symonds could not match the government representative’s wonderful booming voice, but offered clarity and a firm grasp of detail. We don’t know all that much about his politics yet, only that he is a historian whose political hero is Nye Bevan. He is perhaps best described as ‘middle of the party’, and – like Starmer – says he is not a fan of “factional games”.

The decision to award Lisa Nandy such a senior post was not entirely expected. It is a significant acknowledgement that Starmer respects the way in which Nandy fought for the leadership. It is interesting that she has been picked for Shadow Foreign Secretary rather than Home, in a move that may actually represent one of the biggest breaks from Corbynism under Starmer. Nandy was the only leadership candidate to pro-actively talk about foreign policy during the campaign, delivering a speech in which she argued that the Corbyn team “failed on Russia” and its response to the Salisbury attack was “totally wrong”.

Rachel Reeves was tipped for the Shadow Chancellor role, but got Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster instead. Not as senior, and she had to give up the business select committee chair role. Why, then, and what is the job anyway? The Brexit department has been abolished and its responsibilities have largely gone to the Cabinet Office. And Reeves is effectively replacing Jon Trickett, who was shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, because Michael Gove has both jobs in government.

Angela Rayner, as well as being the elected deputy leader and thus a member of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), has been appointed as party chair to replace Ian Lavery. She is basically in charge of campaigning and organising within the party, which suits her skillset as she is a unifying figure best known for passionate, barnstorming, no-notes speeches.

Ed Miliband, Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary. His reputation has suffered greatly on the right of the party, but vastly improved on the Labour left since his leadership. This pick represents the direction in which Starmer appears to be taking the party. Also, the climate crisis will become ever more relevant, which makes it notable that Rebecca Long-Bailey was moved from this role. But Miliband has done the energy and climate change part of this job before, both in government and opposition, and was an early backer of the Green New Deal policy.

David Lammy is now Shadow Justice Secretary. This Starmer campaign vice-chair is a barrister who has done serious work on the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell fire while on the backbenches recently. He is bound to bring a focus on structural racism in this brief, having undertaken the ‘Lammy Review’ in 2017 that looked into how BAME people are treated in the criminal justice system. He has criticised the war on drugs and backs an “evidence-based approach on drug reform”.

Jonathan Reynolds is a self-described “moderate” but makes for an interesting Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary because – as noted in our runners and riders piece – he supports the introduction of a universal basic income.

John Healey has become Shadow Defence Secretary. He has been moved from housing to defence, with Nia Griffith moving from defence to Wales. They are both reliable and trusted to do media. Healey voted for the Iraq war, but against 2015 airstrikes in Syria.

Emily Thornberry has been demoted to Shadow International Trade Secretary. She was expected to leave shadow cabinet altogether, though, so Starmer clearly wasn’t unimpressed by her leadership campaign. It also means we’ll see head-to-heads with Liz Truss, which will be highly enjoyable.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was promised a “top job” by Starmer during the campaign, and she got one – but as the architect of Labour’s Green New Deal offer, it might come as a disappointment to be put in charge of education. It is presumed that she will simply continue Rayner’s work on the National Education Service policy. Resisting market forces in higher education is important to the Labour left, as is scrapping tuition fees, but she won’t be able to go further if Labour’s next manifesto must be slimmed down compared to the 2019 one.

Jonathan Ashworth has been kept on as Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, as expected. He has been very good at getting the tone right while criticising the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, and it is important to have some stability in Labour’s health team.

There is a key change in the team: Rosena Allin-Khan has replaced Barbara Keeley as shadow minister for mental health, which is a shadow cabinet post. She impressed many with her deputy leadership campaign that managed to secure her second place in the contest despite entering the race as a relative unknown.

Despite being a Starmer supporter and – appropriately for the brief – a former actor, Tracy Brabin has been replaced by Jo Stevens as Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary.

Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has been given a big promotion, and many in the party think it’s about time too. A big supporter of the Brexit ‘people’s vote’ campaign; a strong reputation for cleverness.

Ian Murray is the obvious choice for Scotland, being Labour’s sole Scottish MP, but he is also unequivocally anti-Scottish independence and anti-indyref2. He was highly critical of John McDonnell saying a future Labour government would not block a second Scottish independence referendum. To what extent will this appointment change Labour policy on that particular point?

Marsha de Cordova has moved directly upwards and replaced Dawn Butler as Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary. To some surprise, Butler came last in the deputy race, which is probably a factor, as well as not signing up to the Board of Deputies pledges. De Cordova is certain to bring a focus on disability rights.

Thangam Debbonaire as Shadow Housing Secretary is surprising – Healey knows the housing brief inside out, and she has been vocal about drug reform, male violence against women, and being anti-Brexit, but not housing any more than other Labour MPs.

Jim McMahon and Preet Gill – transport and international development – are replacing loyal Corbynites, Andy McDonald and Dan Carden. They are both Labour Together MPs (the group previously run by Morgan McSweeney, Starmer’s chief of staff).

Andy McDonald is now Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary. It is a shame to lose his depth of transport knowledge, but this is a natural policy area for the Labour left.

Nick Brown served as a Labour chief whip under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Jeremy Corbyn. After his highly successful whipping during the Brexit votes, Keir Starmer was never going to be the one to take him out of that role.

Lord Falconer is Shadow Attorney General. He has known Starmer for a long time, and helpfully noted during the leadership campaign that the Holborn MP was “appalled by the awfulness of the current leadership”.

Steve Reed, Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, was leader of Lambeth Council for six years and held many other local government positions.

Luke Pollard, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, has only just taken on the brief and put a team together.

Cat Smith and Valerie Vaz have also been kept on as Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement and Shadow Leader of the House respectively.

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