On a warm September day, Sue Gray started as the new Chief of Staff to Keir Starmer – with a major reshuffle of the Shadow Frontbench, the first order of business. This reshuffle is designed to achieve two separate but linked elements: getting Labour election-ready and getting Labour ready for Government. This duality has seen changes in different directions – campaigning bite and governance credibility – with a clear tinge of Starmer wanting only the people he likes around him.
Pat McFadden’s move to National Campaign Coordinator from being Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury puts a Blairite attack dog at the head of the campaign, with Ellie Reeves added to the Cabinet as his Deputy – adding in knowledge of the party system from her long terms on the party’s NEC. The move of Nick Thomas-Symonds, who is close to Starmer, and Jon Ashworth from full frontbench roles to, effectively, policy and messaging roles is also a feature of the new approach.
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 2.0
With flashbacks to John Prescott’s super department, friction will surely be removed between Starmer and his Deputy by the granting of a proper portfolio to Angela Rayner across housing and local government, with the levelling up agenda also included. The move from a more bespoke Future of Work brief – but she is set to retain that policy area as well – demonstrates a broader portfolio and distinct status on the front bench. The formalisation of the Shadow Deputy PM title is also of clear relevance; the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was a super-department under Blair, adding emphasis to the wider portfolio.
Elsewhere, the soft-left lost out; this is red meat for that wing of the party and in marked contrast to the usual narrative of Rayner being sidelined.
New Faces and new portfolios
Darren Jones is the only first-time Shadow Cabinet member, taking up the role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury – which may offer less profile than his former Select Committee Chair role but more power in controlling the purse strings of Labour policy. Liz Kendall moves up into Shadow Work and Pensions, which could make for interesting internal Labour politics. Making a surprising return is Hillary Benn as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary – an unexpected but clearly serious choice for the role.
Beyond this, Shabana Mahmood’s moving from National Campaign Coordinator to Shadow Justice Secretary sees a more direct media performer in that role ahead of the election. Thangham Debbonaire’s promotion into Shadow Culture builds on a few successful media rounds as Shadow Leader of the House and a former Shadow Housing role. Peter Kyle moves sideways into Science and Technology, while Steve Reed has a slight step down to Shadow Environment (but probably a portfolio that has more of a direct interest for him). Jonathan Reynolds also saw Trade join his business brief, aligning with the Government.
Departures and demotions
The first exit was unexpected; Jim McMahon is an absolute Starmer loyalist but has had health challenges while leaving his Environment Role. Preet Gill is similarly loyal and has taken leaving the Shadow International Development brief well – her retention at a lower rank is expected.
Lisa Nandy has taken the largest demotion – which has caused friction with the soft left – but demonstrated considerable humility and loyalty in a positive reaction to the International Development brief. Lucy Powell, who is close to Ed Miliband, survives but takes a demotion, swapping with Thangham Debbonaire to Shadow Leader of the House from Shadow Culture. As mentioned, Ashworth and Thomas-Symonds also took a step down.
Someone who took badly to a reduction in rank was Rosena Allin-Khan, whose resignation letter and claims on the importance of mental health to Starmer are best described as ‘spikey’ – making a return at some future point somewhat unlikely.
The Five Missions
Despite considerable media speculation, the five key individuals for Labour’s programme of government – and Starmer’s mission-based policy development approach – all stayed in post. Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, Wes Streeting, Bridget Phillipson, and, given the significant swing away from the soft-left, somewhat surprisingly Ed Miliband, all stay in role.
All are expected to work closely with the new campaign coordinators, Pat McFadden and Ellie Reeves, to convert the missions into election materials. Alongside this, with Sue Gray now on board we can expect a more coordinated approach to development, deployment and, dependent on elections, delivery of the central missions.
The purpose of the reshuffle
So, what does this tell us?
The alignment with Government Departments tells us much, with two notable elements. First, Climate Change and Net Zero is a slight but important difference instead of Energy Security and Net Zero. Meanwhile, International Development will be a department again in a future Labour Government.
However, beyond the technicalities, something is becoming clear – Starmer wants to win, and he wants to govern. There are six former Blair-period SpAds now in the Shadow Cabinet. He’s putting together a team to do that; one where he nods to party management but focuses on delivering his own vision.