Keir Starmer has made an impressive start on pulling together a credible team fashioned in his own image – competent, confident and cautiously radical. Despite the distraction of internal wrangling over the leaked Labour Party HQ report to the ECHR, there is a new-found rapport in the Shadow Cabinet; a sense of leadership and readiness for team Keir to hold Government to account. Suddenly, it no longer seems ludicrous to suggest Labour could win the 2024 General Election. So what can we expect?:
- The Shadow Cabinet is clearly now a “broad church” with many of those considered beyond the pale for the Corbynistas brought back into the fold including the highly competent Rachel Reeves in the all-important role of Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, of course, the other leadership contender and long time critic of Jeremy, Lisa Nandy. Others whom we might have expected to get jobs – Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn for example – didn’t. A small number of Momentum backed MPs remain in the Cabinet, and many more are in Shadow Ministerial roles, but their longevity will now depend on their merit rather than patronage. Keir’s first Shadow Cabinet is clearly work in progress and there is plenty of time in the next 55 months for further changes.
- When you review those who have stepped down or been dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet [insert link], they were – with just one or two notable exceptions – the “hardliners” who supported Jeremy to the hilt. Without the likes of Richard Burgon and Diane Abbott, the Shadow Cabinet is likely to be typified by pragmatism and a focus on winning the next general election rather than ideology. Expect a fairly quick return to the centre-left of British politics. In the current Coronavirus crisis, when values of solidarity, collective decision making and the State caring for us all – and even the Queen striking a centre-left tone in her weekend address – Keir would be wise not to tack too far from his ten point plan, carefully crafted to demonstrate he was a continuity candidate.
- Coronavirus has, however, turned politics on its head with Boris Johnson’s Government embarking on an extension to the state unimaginable for a Conservative Prime Minister just two months ago. Suddenly there is a magic money tree, Universal Credit can be reformed, Local Housing Allowances are able to be increased, companies can be bailed out, individuals furloughed and in self-employment have in effect become state subsidised. And there are now an estimated 2.73 million unemployed. How the UK leaves the lockdown is the critical political challenge facing the UK next. Not how and when we relax social distancing – vitally important though that is – but how the state continues to support a fragile economy, and fragile individuals, that will require ongoing and specific support.
- Fortunately Anneliese Dodds, as Shadow Chancellor and Ed Miliband as Shadow BEIS Secretary will be on hand to help Keir grapple with two critical conundrums: how to ensure post CV19 there is no return to austerity, as George Osborne has already warned, and how essential workers will in the future be better rewarded by a grateful society. On a more positive note the appointment of the former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change – is very good news for all those who want to see policy the transition to net zero carbon emissions accelerated. Remember, it was David Cameron abolished the role in 2016 clearly failing to see that climate change would re-emerge as a defining political necessity just a few years later.
- Last but not least, Keir’s Shadow Cabinet is good for devolution. He made a solemn commitment to “push power, wealth and opportunity away from Whitehall. A federal system to devolve powers – including through regional investment banks and control over regional industrial strategy. Abolish the House of Lords – replace it with an elected chamber of regions and nations.” We therefore expect to see devolution policy – which did not get very far at all when John Trickett insisted it was part of the wider policy of a constitutional convention that never happened – moving forward, especially given the Leader of the Opposition’s is now far more likely to listen to Labour Mayors, Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, and, of course, Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford.