30 November 2021 | POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT ANALYSIS
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer announced a reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet yesterday morning, mid-way through a speech that his Deputy, Angela Rayner, was making about alleged corruption in the Conservative Party. It seems that Rayner was given no details on the reshuffle in advance, which has resulted in any rift between them being thrust right into the public eye.
This is the second time Starmer has done something like this to Rayner in relation to a reshuffle and, this time, he is playing a political gamble for the future – will Corbyn relic Rayner decide she has had enough and stand down because she doesn’t like direction Starmer is heading in, or will she become even more emboldened in her elected Deputy Leader position and cause greater division?
Cat Smith, who was elected in 2015, voluntarily stood down first in a letter in which she says that not readmitting Jeremy Corbyn to the Parliamentary Labour Party is a “position utterly unsustainable” and that Starmer needs to “truly understand how much damage this is causing in Constituency Labour Parties and amongst ordinary members”. Ms Smith has served on the Labour frontbench since September 2015 and nominated Corbyn for Leader. She was one of the last pillars of Corbynism in Starmer’s main team after the departure of Rebecca Long-Bailey, so her walking is likely to please Team Starmer (who those on the far-left are presently referring to as “Starmtroopers”) and isolate the left of the party more.
The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs will see this reshuffle as a further eradication of Corbyn’s legacy, whilst also being angry that any infrastructure and control they had has broken away faster than anyone imagined. Smith walking away is like catnip to the Labour centre, who want to see the left fade back into obscurity so the Party can become electable again. With Starmer holding the levers of power, and echoing Tony Blair’s New Labour in both his Conference speech and the Fabian essay, the former Director of Public Prosecutions seemed to be conducting an exorcism of the people responsible for Labour losing so badly in 2019. Mutterings from the previous leadership came out very quickly, with former Shadow Chancellor and Corbyn Project co-leader John McDonnell saying this was a move to a “Christmas Past”.
Later on in the day, Starmer bought back Emily Thornberry, who had been Shadow Foreign Secretary under Corbyn, as Shadow Attorney General and veteran MP Yvette Cooper to face Priti Patel as Shadow Home Secretary. These appointments see Starmer creating a serious looking team before Christmas and the next General Election. He also appointed David Lammy as the new Shadow Foreign Secretary opposite the Conservatives’ Liz Truss.
The Labour Leader also sought to move around some old hands, in the form of former Labour diamonds like Ed Miliband and Lisa Nandy, in the hope of invigorating the Labour front bench and turning the tide in what is notionally a “Captain Hindsight” political party. This time, Angela Rayner was neither moved nor threatened with any changes to her many roles, which is likely to help keep her at bay for now. Her critics, however, are not happy that Starmer undermined her big speech – but was this a calculated move? Only the Leader’s team will know, but one thing looks certain: the two front faces of a political force that is in eternal civil war are smiling in public, yet divided behind the scenes.
It has only a day since the new team has been in place, so it remains to be seen whether this is the election-winning front bench that could see Labour back in power for another decade or more. They will need time to settle in, but the hard work to persuade the millions who lent their vote to the Conservatives 2 years ago back towards the Labour fold starts today, and it seems like looking up to the peak of Everest.