What does the new leader’s office say about Keir Starmer?

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer has now made a substantial number of appointments to the leader’s office. Some of these have already been made public, but others on the list below are exclusively revealed by LabourList today.

  • Morgan McSweeney – chief of staff
  • Chris Ward – deputy chief of staff
  • Helene Reardon-Bond – deputy chief of staff (transition and transformation)
  • Ben Nunn – director of communications
  • Paul Ovenden – deputy director of communications
  • Tom Hughes – press officer and spokesman
  • Sam White – adviser
  • Simon Fletcher – special adviser (general election)
  • Claire Ainsley – executive director of policy
  • Ellie Robinson – director of stakeholder engagement
  • Jenny Chapman – director of politics
  • Yasmeen Sebbana – private secretary
  • Tom Lillywhite – head of digital and social strategy
  • Jack Bond – social media manager

Other appointments include Sofia Patel, Alex Barros-Curtis, Mark Simpson, Matt Pound, Stuart Ingham and Luke Sullivan.

There are people who were already working for Starmer, either in his parliamentary office or more informally (Ward, Nunn, Sebbana, Lillywhite). Plus those who worked on Starmer’s leadership campaign (McSweeney, Fletcher, Chapman, Hughes).

Others have been carried over from the last leader’s office, including Reardon-Bond and Bond, who are indeed related as mother and son, while Sullivan was previously at the whips’ office and will now liaise between the two.

White and Ovenden are both blasts from the past. The former, son of ex-Guardian journalist Michael White, worked for Alistair Darling as Chancellor. The latter’s Labour experience was more recent, working for the party between 2014 and 2017.

There are also entirely new names – most notably Ainsley, who has come from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to head up policy. Her work has been on ‘the new working class’, and she wrote a book about it.

In a 2019 LabourList piece, Ainsley argued that Britain’s working class is “multi-ethnic”, and made up of “cleaners, shop workers, bar tenders, teaching assistants, cooks, carers”.

She is certain to bring a focus on low-income voters to Labour’s electoral strategy. Her more recent LabourList piece on this subject is worth a read in light of her appointment.

Ainsley as head of policy will likely influence LOTO in stressing the importance of reducing poverty, particularly child poverty, and being more comfortable with use of the term “family”.

McSweeney, another key appointment, reinforces Starmer’s non-factional message. He founded Labour Together – currently conducting a review of the 2019 campaign – which aims to unite different strands of the party.

But the fact that only six of the 20 appointments made by Starmer have gone to women, and that the team is overwhelmingly dominated by white staffers, has not been unnoticed by insiders.

“There are enough men in the 25-35 age range for a football team, although these days there are no squads in the premiership anywhere near as wholly white as this,” one commented.

The party activist and Starmer backer, who said she did not want to be named, added: “The line up is so embarrassingly lacking in diversity I can only assume it’s a mistake, and I’d like to give him the chance to rectify it.”

Other LabourList sources have raised similar concerns, but there is an overriding feeling within the party that Starmer should not be undermined at the moment. He is being given the benefit of the doubt.

And there will be further opportunities in the near future to appoint women to senior Labour HQ posts. Kat Fletcher, who worked on the Starmer campaign, is expected to be among those given a top role.

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