Yesterday, the new leader of the Labour Party – and how good does it feel to say that, regardless of what you think of Starmer? – made his initial shadow cabinet picks. They were just the top jobs but they still give us some indication of what Starmer’s leadership is going to be like, at least the first stage of it.
It gave me the impression of someone who knows he has the left of the party waiting to jump down his throat and call him a Lib Dem as quickly as they can and is looking to avoid this early fight. So, he picked much more sensible MPs to hold top shadow cabinet jobs – in fairness, this wasn’t tricky given the poor standard under Corbyn – yet often chose figures who were already in the shadow cabinet, isolating Starmer from “purge” claims (although, they are being made anyhow, of course). Anneliese Dodds as chancellor as a perfect example of this – someone who was already in the shadow ministerial team under Corbyn, in the shadow Treasury team itself, in fact. Starmer gets someone who is both much more credible than the previous holder of the job, yet can’t be seen as part of a centrist coup. It can be explained as a promotion from with the shadow ministerial ranks. Same goes with Nick Thomas-Symonds – a man whose Labour credentials cannot be questioned who was in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, holding the security brief. Again, a much more credible person walks into the role who cannot be called a Blairite by anyone who isn’t a loon.
Rachel Reeves needs to wait things out with a still impressive shadow Cabinet Office role – giving her a top four job would have been too much ammunition for the left, clearly. Jonathan Ashworth stays as shadow health secretary – many wanted Rosena Allin-Khan to get the brief, yet it makes sense not to reshuffle this position at a time of national crisis (Allin-Khan’s time will come). Nick Brown remains chief whip, the lone shadow cabinet survivor of all of the internal Labour Party wars, another bloke whose Labour credentials cannot be besmirched.
That leaves the only slightly strange appointment: Lisa Nandy as shadow Foreign Secretary. Not because I don’t think she’s up to it but more than it seems a little tokenistic – I need to give Lisa a big job and this is the only position left after I’ve slotted everyone else in, sort of a thing. Perhaps I’m being harsh; yet I just saw Nandy taking a big public service portfolio like transport. I hope she does well in the role and makes this paragraph look unfair in retrospect.
Most of the truly awful people in the shadow cabinet, the ones who made Labour look terrible every time they opened their mouths, have been moved on. Starmer’s strategy is clearly to make the frontbench way more competent while not scaring the soft left at the very least too much to start with, while blunting the inevitable hard left critiques that he is a Lib Dem centrist dad. Given Starmer has played the politics of the past few years better than almost anyone in Britain, I wouldn’t underestimate him.
This week, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: