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Starmer's brave reshuffle: The Labour shadow cabinet September 2023

By Andrew Kernahan

Vice President

Despite the sweltering weather in Westminster - the home of the UK’s Houses of Parliament - the summer is drawing to a close. This means MPs from across the country are returning (depending on the size of their majorities) from either campaigning hard in their constituencies or from sunning themselves in the Med. 

With the party conferences, the King’s Speech and the Autumn Statement all due in the next couple of months, this autumn looks to be as frantic as usual, with the added excitement of the country entering the last year or so until the next election. Both parties are considering who to put front-and-centre in the lead-up to the election, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has taken the opportunity to reshuffle his team. Let’s have a look at who’s in, who’s out, and who’s going nowhere…

Headline of the reshuffle: Angela Rayner

The headline of the reshuffle is the appointment of Angela Rayner to Shadow Levelling-Up Secretary, with the role focusing on reducing primarily economic imbalances between areas and social groups across the UK, as well as housing and local government issues. 

Rayner holds the separately-elected position of Deputy Labour Leader, but it is known that there have long been tensions between the Leader and Deputy Leader’s offices. In giving her a major shadow portfolio for the first time (along with the title of Shadow Deputy Prime Minister), Starmer is aiming to soothe these tensions by demonstrating his confidence in her and giving her political positions that match her rank in the Party.

As well as deputising for Starmer when required at PMQs, she will now also go toe-to-toe with Levelling up Secretary Michael Gove (who is seen as one of the better Parliamentary communicators) at Parliamentary question time.

Technology changes

There are also significant changes on the tech side of things, with Shadow Science and Tech Secretary Lucy Powell being replaced by Peter Kyle and a number of moves in the junior ranks, including Sir Chris Bryant into the Shadow Digital and Creative Industries Minister job. Bryant joins the experienced Chi Onwurah, who remains Shadow Innovation Minister. Alex Davies-Jones also stays on as Shadow Tech Minister, while Matt Rodda has been appointed the new AI shadow minister, focused on scrutinising one of the Government's key areas of interest. 

Darren Jones, a leading voice on tech policy, also joins the front bench as Shadow Chief Secretary – the Treasury’s number two position with a key economic and public spending focus. 

No changes in other roles

Also of note is the lack of changes in other areas. Rachael Reeves as Shadow Chancellor, Wes Streeting as Health and Social Care Shadow Secretary, and Ed Miliband as Energy Security and Net Zero Shadow Secretary all remain in post. Reeves, Streeting and Miliband stay in some of the most central and visible posts for Labour – policy-wise, politically and electorally. They have each suffered controversies and rough patches, but Starmer clearly believes they are competent, resilient, and popular enough to be major players in the election campaign and in a potential future Labour government. 

In particular, Streeting’s reformist, unsentimental views of the NHS are being rewarded. This suggests Labour is doubling-down on health service reform, especially with the promotion of former NHS manager Karin Smyth into the Shadow NHS Reform Minister role.

A reshuffle focused on experience and centrism

The general theme of the reshuffle is one of experience and centrism. A number of moderates and Blairites (both older and younger) have been promoted and Starmer has further removed individuals on the left from positions of power. He continues to look back to the days of New Labour, both in style and in personnel, with New Labour veterans like Hilary Benn and Liz Kendall climbing up the ladder. 

Given how long it has been since the last Labour government was in power, there have been concerns about how few of the shadow front bench had previous ministerial experience – something that Starmer is correcting for in this reshuffle. Outgoing Shadow Chief Secretary and long-serving MP Pat McFadden is an excellent example of this: he moves into an election campaigning role (trying to bring back some of that election-winning know-how) and into a key cross-government coordination role. 

A brave reshuffle

Starmer’s increasing political strength and impressive poll numbers have given him the opportunity and the ability to perform a brave reshuffle with little or no fanfare, which will sting some parts of the party. He feels confident enough to ignore any party divisions and focus closely on those who know how to win and how to govern. 

As we approach the final year of this Parliament – and a key party conference season – we wait to see how well this new-look Labour team can scrutinise the Government and prepare a convincing, detailed programme for a potential government of its own. 

If you need further guidance on the reshuffle or are interested in hearing what Clarity can do for your government relations, contact the team today.

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