Starmer Rejigs Labour’s Top Team to Fight Next UK Election

UK opposition leader Keir Starmer re-jigged his top team as he puts in place the shadow ministers that are likely to lead Labour’s campaign at a general election expected next year.

(Bloomberg) — UK opposition leader Keir Starmer re-jigged his top team as he puts in place the shadow ministers that are likely to lead Labour’s campaign at a general election expected next year.

Starmer named Angela Rayner shadow deputy prime minister and handed her the brief for leveling up, housing and communities, a vote of confidence in his deputy leader, with whom he has at times had a fractious relationship. She replaces Lisa Nandy — one of Starmer’s vanquished opponents in the 2020 leadership contest, who is demoted to shadow international development minister, while still a member of the shadow cabinet.

It’s a key moment for Starmer, whose party enjoys a double-digit poll lead over Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party ahead of a national vote that has to happen by Jan. 2025 at the latest. That means Starmer’s picks for his top team could reflect the make-up of the next British government.

Aside from Rayner, Starmer made no changes at the top of the shadow cabinet, keeping in place those holding the briefs for the Treasury, home affairs, foreign affairs, health and education. Instead, he carried out an extensive overhaul of the second tier of shadow ministerial positions, including those covering culture, work and pensions and justice.

But Rayner’s position had been a matter of much discussion among Labour officials. An earlier attempt by Starmer to curb her power was seen as disastrous, and he ended up promoting her after she resisted. By signaling she’ll be deputy prime minister if Labour wins power, Starmer is highlighting how relations have thawed. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to offer his party deputy Harriet Harman the same position. 

Starmer and his team view this fall as a pivotal time for Labour’s chances, with the party’s annual conference in October seen as a key moment of public engagement with wall-to-wall media coverage of the party’s aims and policies. Unlike in normal years, it comes after the Conservative Party Conference, giving the opposition the chance to seize the news agenda.

Peter Kyle, a longtime ally of Starmer, was handed the brief for science, innovation and technology, with his old job covering Northern Ireland going to Hilary Benn, a former cabinet minister who in more recent years as a backbencher headed up the parliamentary committee scrutinizing the government’s Brexit strategy.

Darren Jones, a 36-year-old rising star of the party, was named shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, replacing Pat McFadden, who moves to the Cabinet Office. Nick Thomas-Symonds was also moved to the cabinet office from trade — which becomes part of shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds’s brief.

Shabana Mahmood takes the justice brief, and Liz Kendall — a Tony Blair era aide — was promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary, replacing Jonathan Ashworth, who was demoted to shadow paymaster general and still attend shadow cabinet meetings. Thangam Debbonaire was promoted to the culture brief. 

Jim McMahon, who served as the party’s environment spokesman stepped down. In a letter thanking him, Starmer said threats of violence and health issues had led to his departure. 

Shadow cabinet members with posts relating to Starmer’s core missions remain unchanged, including Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and the holders of the health and education posts, Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson.

The Labour changes coincide with Sue Gray’s first day in post as Starmer’s chief of staff. Gray, who led the investigation into rule-breaking parties in 10 Downing Street and Whitehall during the coronavirus pandemic, had to serve a six-month cooling-off period before being able to take on the role.

Starmer’s reshuffle follows Sunak’s own minor reorganization of his cabinet last week, in which he installed Grant Shapps as the new defense secretary to replace Ben Wallace, and promoted Claire Coutinho to fill Shapps’s old role of energy secretary. The moves were widely seen as Sunak handing roles to loyalists as he too looks ahead to the next election.

The third largest grouping in Parliament, the Scottish National Party, also said in a statement on Monday it was making changes to its spokespeople in the House of Commons, with Drew Hendry promoted to economy spokesman.

–With assistance from Alex Wickham.

(Updates with more details starting in third paragraph.)

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