Labour’s new deputy leader Angela Rayner has unveiled a fresh set of appointments that make up her own team. The aim is for Marsha de Cordova, Kim Johnson, Nav Mishra, Tulip Siddiq and Sam Tarry to help Rayner “transform the culture and practices of the Labour Party for the better”. Reform of BAME Labour will be a priority – and you only have to look at the recent open letters to recognise how important the outcome of these changes will be for many activists.
These MPs were picked by Rayner herself, and it is notable that three of five belong to the overwhelmingly left-wing 2019 intake and four are members of the Socialist Campaign Group. Siddiq, the only non-member, is considered soft left. She worked with Rayner in the education team, and helped Tarry defeat Progress and take over Young Labour back when the two were active in the party’s youth wing. Tarry chaired Rayner’s deputy leadership campaign. Johnson and Mishra came up through UNISON, as Rayner did.
Rayner is a remarkably powerful figure in the Labour Party. She is strengthened by this new team, which is composed of MPs who have vital political links to each other and to Rayner. And being elected as deputy leader led to three other top roles – party chair, national campaign coordinator, Shadow First Secretary of State. This last post shows that she has not only been put in charge of stirring up activists and winning back votes in parts of the country more suited to her than Keir Starmer, but also has a crucial role to play in parliament.
Exceptionally, however, she will not be standing in for Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions today – despite Dominic Raab, her opposite, deputising for the Prime Minister. The Labour leader could not shy away from his first session during this national crisis. Both he and Raab will be in the chamber physically from noon this afternoon. And there are plenty of government measures to scrutinise and failures to highlight. The question is whether Starmer will be doing more of the former than the latter.
The Labour leader has attracted praise since his election from commentators who appreciate his rejection of “opposition for opposition’s sake”. But this reluctance to criticise the government has also frustrated parts of the party, particularly the left, including MPs such as John McDonnell. The most surprising new voice joining this side of the debate is Alastair Campbell – one of Starmer’s constituents as well as a former communications director. He has commended the leader for his “sensible tone” but warned that “there has been too much “now is not the time for criticism, those questions can wait” for a crisis of this scale”. Will Starmer heed this advice? Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.