Keir Starmer

As Keir Starmer’s election as Leader of the Labour Party became increasingly inevitable over the three and a half months following Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation, Labour Party hacks had to turn to something else to satisfy our insatiable desire for internal news and controversy. Fortunately, Starmer’s first appointments to the Shadow Cabinet came just days after his victory.

On the whole, Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet shows that he values political unity with only minor olive branches extended to MPs on the Left and Right. It is no surprise that hard-line socialists like Dan Carden and Richard Burgon were stood down from their positions. Long-Bailey is the highest profile socialist in the Shadow Cabinet inheriting the Education brief off Angela Rayner. Her position is likely to be a courtesy given her participation in the leadership contest. There are also less prominent roles for socialists Cat Smith, Andy McDonald (who is not actually a member of the Socialist Campaign Group – the group of socialist Labour MPs) and Marsha de Cordova (who actually backed Starmer). From the hard-right, there is Ian Murray who is Shadow Scotland Secretary. This is unsurprising given he is Labour’s only MP representing a Scottish constituency and he was a candidate for Deputy Leader.

The headline appointment is Anneliese Dodds, who replaces John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor. An Oxford PPE graduate and former MEP, Dodds then served in the Shadow Treasury as a Minister under McDonnell and is known to be competent on issues of finance and taxation in particular. Both Dodds and Starmer serve on the Fabian Society Executive Committee. So although Dodds’ ideological commitments can be unclear, her and Starmer will be reading from the same hymn sheet (whatever it ends up being).

Another notable appointment is the return of former-leader Ed Miliband who inherits Long-Bailey’s brief of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Crucially this is the department that has overseen the development of Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution and Green New Deal policies. Miliband was an early supporter of the Labour for a Green New Deal campaign group (hosting its Parliamentary launch event) and co-chairs IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission which has a strong Green New Deal focus. This appointment signals Starmer’s intention to retain the Green New Deal framing, but what remains to be seen is how far the necessary focus on public ownership and mass investment (core to the plan) developed by Long-Bailey, McDonnell and Corbyn will be retained.

One of the most surprising appointments was Lisa Nandy as Foreign Secretary, especially given her gaffe during the leadership contest where she claimed in an interview with Andrew Neil that the question of Catalan independence was resolved peacefully (it was resolved with violent police repression and the democratically elected President of Catalonia remains exiled). Nandy is Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East but she is widely understood to have overseen a decline in the group’s activity, so it’s not the credential it might appear on the surface. This, like Long-Bailey, is a (generous) courtesy appointment to Starmer’s leadership contest opponent. It wouldn’t surprise me if after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Nandy is stood down or re-shuffled with someone like Jon Ashworth promoted to the more senior position.

Starmer’s leadership election campaign gave members little clue about his political commitments. His campaign placed more focus on his track record as a human-rights lawyer and supporter of justice issues in that capacity. In a successful effort to reach across Labour’s political divides, he also appealed to values rather than ideology. His first Shadow Cabinet doesn’t give us that much more of a clue about his political priorities. Many are Fabians, but these MPs (like the Fabian Society) have largely not been at the forefront of developing policy under Corbyn’s leadership. Either they served obediently, biding their time and slowly building their reputation across the Party. Or they have emerged, relatively unknown, from the backbenches. This presents an opportunity for the Labour Left to continue shaping the party’s responses to the major crises we now face: economic, climate and public health.

This article is the second in a series from Chris Saltmarsh on the state of the Labour Left after Jeremy Corbyn. The series can be found here.

Image credit: Chatham House – Creative Commons