Out with the old… in with the old: What can we learn from Keir Starmer’s reshuffle?

Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, conducted a major reshuffle of the Labour Shadow Cabinet on Monday, with new faces and Labour heavy hitters alike brought to the front bench.

But what can we learn from Starmer’s biggest shake up of his central team since he gained the leadership in April 2020?

Taking the Shadow Cabinet away from the Left

The changes announced yesterday feel like a final dismissal of the left of the Labour Party that held such sway during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. While the grass roots of the Party may well still be dominated by the left, the Shadow Cabinet is now firmly in control of those more to the centre and right. Wes Streeting, the new Shadow Secretary of State for Health, is regarded as a Blairite, while Yvette Cooper, the new Home Secretary, served in the cabinets of both Blair and Brown.

Depending where someone sits in the Labour firmament dictates how they view these moves. Topically, and perhaps predictably, John McDonnell, shadow chancellor under Corbyn, said: “Reviving the careers of former Blairite ministers… does give the impression of Christmas Past, not Christmas Future.”

A mix of new faces and heavy hitters

With one eye on an election that could be as little as two years away, Keir Starmer has gone for a clear mix of younger, ‘up and coming’ talent, and more tried and tested heavy hitters.

Streeting, at 38, would certainly be in the former camp, alongside Bridget Phillipson, the new Shadow Education Secretary. Starmer will hope that the public will quickly become familiar with this new generation of front bench politician in a way that predecessors have perhaps failed to achieve.

In the heavy hitter column, alongside Cooper, can be added the names of David Lammy, the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Pat McFadden, a veteran of Blair and Brown governments, who takes on the role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Lisa Nandy has been moved from the foreign affairs brief to shadowing Michael Gove on the levelling up agenda. While this might in the past have been seen as a demotion, given the strategic importance of levelling up to the government it does signal the importance of this topic and the need for Labour to take on the Tories directly in this area – a key plank in the strategy to take back Red Wall seats lost in 2019.

One eye on the next election

It would be premature to say that this reshuffle fires the starting gun on the next Labour general election campaign, but it does provide clues as to how Starmer and his team envisage a route to Number 10 – higher public profiles for key shadow cabinet positions, spokespeople who can speak directly to the Red Wall, and a far more united shadow cabinet.

The real test of this strategy will come soon, with by elections in Old Bexley and Sidcup today, and North Shropshire in the coming weeks.

But with Keir Starmer’s approval ratings slowly edging up, and Boris Johnson’s own troubles beginning to mount, could this be the Labour front bench that leads the Party out of the shadows, and into Number 10?

If you would like a conversation about how to best build relationships with Keir Starmer’s new Shadow Cabinet, email the Brands2Life Public Affairs Team, providing advice and political consultancy to a large range of clients.