The next shadow cabinet – runners and riders

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

We have decided to run this piece looking at who might be appointed to the new shadow cabinet under the next Labour leader at this particular time for a reason. The article is being published after ballots closed in the leadership election on Thursday. But now that voting is over, LabourList can say that local party nominations and polling all very strongly indicate a decisive victory for Keir Starmer. For that reason, we will be looking here at which MPs he might be likely to promote to his team.

Starmer could win tomorrow on the basis of first preference votes alone, in the way that Corbyn did both in 2015 (59.5%) and 2016 (61.8%). This would give him a clear mandate. But he also ran his leadership campaign on the theme of party unity. That means he will have to strike a balance: while there is hidden talent in the parliamentary party that could deservedly come to the fore, he cannot clear out all of the Labour left representatives either.

It is often forgotten that Jeremy Corbyn appointed a unity shadow cabinet after he was first elected as leader in 2015. While John McDonnell, his friend and campaign manager, took the role of Shadow Chancellor, opponent Andy Burnham was Shadow Home. Owen Smith, Lisa Nandy, Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn, Heidi Alexander, Chris Bryant – all of whom later supported the challenge to his leadership in 2016 – were also given top jobs.

The focus of Starmer’s new shadow cabinet is likely to be first and foremost on competence – another key theme of his campaign – and that will certainly be the way that the appointments are sold. The other factor that will have to be considered is diversity. Corbyn had a female majority in his first shadow cabinet – the first in British parliamentary history. But he was still criticised for appointing men to the most senior posts. If Keir Starmer is elected, he should be under pressure to make sure that his team members do not all look like him.

Supporters on the Corbynsceptic wing of the party in particular are wondering just how risk-averse Starmer would be as Labour leader – and the shadow cabinet will be one of the first real indicators of whether he intends to take a ‘softly, softly’ approach or a more ruthless one. His character certainly suggests that he would pick figures who are as sensible and inoffensive as possible.

Rachel Reeves – As a British economist, the MP for Leeds West is deemed best-placed by many in the party to take over from McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor. She has certainly got the credentials, having worked at the Bank of England before entering parliament.

The Sunday Times reported that a source close to Starmer saw her as an example of “young soft lefties who are brainy and, importantly, who most people don’t recognise”. She is not on the soft left, and this seriously underestimates just how controversial Reeves is on the Labour left. Throughout the contest, members have shared a Guardian article in which Reeves as a new welfare chief  in 2013 vowed to be “tougher” than the Tories on benefits.

Nonetheless, Reeves is seen by many Starmer backers as the most qualified candidate for the post, and she has been making her voice heard over recent weeks – from appearing on Politics Live to writing for LabourList on the Budget and coronavirus measures. She has been working on her plan for the ‘everyday economy’ for two years now.

Anneliese Dodds – This former MEP, now MP for Oxford East, is the other main candidate for the Shadow Chancellor job. Like Reeves, she is an Oxford PPE graduate. Exceptionally well-liked, Dodds is known to be sharp and incredibly capable. She is regarded as soft left, a pro-European internationalist like Starmer, and she has served as a shadow Treasury minister since July 2017.

Perhaps most importantly, Dodds comes recommended by McDonnell himself. Although sources close to Starmer are convinced that Reeves has the edge over Dodds, the appointment of the latter would definitely help to unite the party – reassuring Corbynites without causing concern among Corbynsceptics or attracting criticism from the press. There are suggestions that she could be Shadow Foreign Secretary instead, however.

Preet Gill – Our first female Sikh MP is currently shadow minister for international development. She may well be promoted directly upwards – after all, there is basically zero chance of Dan Carden keeping his job. She is also interested in local government and health. She wrote a Keir Starmer endorsement piece for LabourList.

Sarah Jones – Another 2017 intake MP, Jones has been a vocal supporter of Starmer during the race and went out to bat for him on Politics Live. She is currently a shadow housing minister, but also takes an interest in knife crime as an issue that particularly affects her Croydon seat. She has written movingly about single mothers being attacked by the Tories.

Jim McMahon – Starmer kicked off his campaign in Oldham, McMahon’s constituency, and McMahon spoke on the candidate’s behalf at the local government hustings when Starmer took a leave of absence. He is already a shadow local government minister.

Bridget Phillipson – This Sunderland MP was first elected in 2010, believe it or not. She is not well-known among members, but has built a strong reputation among journalists and particularly pro-EU colleagues as a thoughtful politician.

Jonathan Reynolds – Currently shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, Reynolds has plenty of frontbench experience as a former shadow energy minister, shadow transport minister, and PPS to the Leader of the Opposition. He is a self-described “moderate” in the party, but holds some unusual positions – support for proportional representation, Universal Basic Income. Reynolds strongly backed Starmer for the leadership throughout the contest. He did lose his rag on Twitter once, though.

Yvette Cooper – Lots of Starmer supporters have said they want to see the return of Cooper, either as Shadow Home or Chancellor. She has plenty of experience, of course, but she would have to quit as chair of the home affairs select committee. Some have raised concerns that Labour would be losing someone who occupies a key backbench role, which will be even more important in holding to account a Tory government with an 80-seat majority.

Hilary Benn – If Starmer does want to appoint only one of the crucial Labour select committee chairs, he could go for Benn. He heads up the ‘committee on the future relationship with the European Union’, formerly the Brexit committee, but could be a good shout for International Trade. Starmer is thought to have poor personal relations with almost nobody except Barry Gardiner, who currently holds that post.

David Lammy – The Tottenham MP was a vice-chair of the Starmer campaign. The fellow barrister is known for his passionate speeches and influential work on the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell fire. He is thought to still be interested in one day becoming London mayor, but in the meantime his dynamism and straight-talking approach would be very welcome on the Labour frontbench.

Nick Thomas-Symonds – The role of Shadow Attorney General could be up grabs, and this Keir-backing historian/barrister looks like a good candidate for the job.

Ian Murray – It is very difficult to see Labour’s only Scottish MP not being appointed as Shadow Secretary for Scotland, a role currently occupied by Tony Lloyd who is also covering Northern Ireland.

Chris Matheson – He has been tipped by the JC to replace Ian Lavery as party chair. It seems an unlikely appointment, though, as he is little-known and would do nothing to improve the demographic diversity of the leadership team.

Luke Pollard and Tracy Brabin – Both keen Starmer backers, and both only recently appointed to shadow cabinet positions (Defra and DCMS). They seem incredibly likely to be kept where they are now.

Jon Ashworth – The Shadow Health Secretary will almost definitely be kept on: there needs to be continuity in this area during the coronavirus crisis, and he has skilfully adopted exactly the right tone for criticising the government over its failures in relation to the pandemic.

Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy – The other leadership contenders have both been promised “top jobs” by Starmer. The question is whether Long-Bailey will be allowed to keep her current brief of business, energy and industrial strategy, which would mean she could continue working on the green new deal plan. Early on, Nandy was expected to get something as senior as Home, but that is thought unlikely now. More likely local government or transport.

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