2 December 2021
Shuffle and Shake
Those of us who are devotees of the wit and wisdom of Angela Rayner were hoping for a new instalment this week; “Scum” she has perhaps retired as an epithet, and “Vermin” was really the copyright of her predecessor in both rudeness and ideology, Aneurin Bevan, but there must be something she can come up with to hurl at her boss, Keir Starmer. We won’t suggest anything in here, a publication read by all the family, but we wager the Rayner household has heard a few rich choices over the last couple of days.
Keir once again showed his growing confidence as Labour leader, and an adroitness as a politician natural to an ex-lawyer, by having a major reshuffle – but without letting his deputy, that very same Ms Rayner, know what was going on. Lisa Nandy, one of the major winners of the Starmer Shuffle, emerging as Shadow Secretary for the Department of Levelling Up (we could make this stuff up but who needs to when such departments really exist) and thus battling Michael Gove, said, barely suppressing a giggle, that reshuffling is entirely the boss’s prerogative. So it is, of course, but in most organisations the boss would run it past their deputy just to get some buy-in and have any obvious boo-boo’s pointed out. Not in today’s Labour Party, where boss and deputy boss can pretty obviously not stand each other. Don’t believe us? This week Keir sent out invitations to his Christmas (or at least festive season) drinks party for the media, jointly with Rachel Reeves, his new shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. But no invitation to Angela.
Oh dear, oh dear. Those of us who enjoy corporate manoeuvrings have all thought of doing that sort of thing, but then reflected that it might be wiser and funnier to invite the discombobulated one and watch them squirm their way round the warm white wine circuit, trying to avoid those testing questions and sly glances.
But the Labour Leader may have a deeper agenda. Ms Rayner, having been deliberately insulted by not being informed about the changes in the Labour control room, had really two choices. To resign, or, er, not to resign. Resigning would no doubt be deeply satisfying, especially if she could deploy that choice language learnt in her youth, but then no more seat at the top table for Angie and her Leftie views. And, of course, it would be deeply helpful to Keir, if a minor risk, in that there would then have to be an election for a new deputy leader. Such a campaign might well lack momentum, or rather Momentum, as the Starmer faction would be looking for a more middle of the road candidate (one less gobby as well). But not resigning looks weak and traps the Deputy Leader in what is clearly an ineffective role. One that does not even get invited to drinks parties. After that further delicate twist of the Starmer knife; will she now resign? By the time you read this she may have done – in which case, mission accomplished. Or she may not, in which case, threat neutralised. Either way it’s a very clever manoeuvre by Sir Keir, a very elegant soft shoe shuffle.
But he has scored a bigger victory than that. The Starmer project has taken a big advance and the ex-Corbyn wing seems at the moment to have no idea how to respond. The Shadow cabinet is starting to look positively Blairite (sorry if this wrecks your careers, ladies and gentlemen, but he was the last winner you had), with Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves, both highly competent politicians, placed in high profile jobs that ideally suit their talents. Ed Miliband, who seems to have lost interest in mainstream politics, is shoved sideways to shadow climate change secretary, and Yvette Cooper, an alternative future leader, is back, as shadow Home Secretary. David Lammy, another hot tempered operator but also a highly intelligent and ambitious one, is shadow Foreign Secretary.
All in all, this is a competent and able shadow cabinet, one that looks, as shadow cabinets should, a government in waiting. It has sidelined the Corbynite wing, and leaves little space for the LibDems. Its members are diverse, calm (well, mostly), and in command of their briefs. Not experienced, it is true, but with Labour out of office now for eleven years, finding any potential ministers with actual cabinet experience is going to be increasingly difficult. Mr Blair overcame that by choosing the right people, training them for office, and encouraging them to think as a cabinet. No doubt Starmer, as a former Director of Public Prosecutions, is well used to prepping and training his team.
And his team is already starting to make the right noises; it is emphasising Labour’s mission to rescue the North (no longer the north, but the North) from broken Tory promises; it is smiling shyly at business as not being the work of the devil, it wants strengthening of education, it is over its Remain stance and recognises that many disaffected Labour voters voted for Boris because of sincere and profound Leaver beliefs.
If Boris does not see this newly emerging force on the other side of the Commons as a threat, he is a fool. He is not a fool, and his ability to read political trends is very well tuned, but increasingly he is trapped by fashionable stances which are not playing well with swing voters. Green causes, energy prices, high taxes on the less well paid, even over vigorous controls in response to new Covid threats, is all scraping the gilt off the Johnson gingerbread. He had a lot of brownie points from Brexit, but all that are left are crumbs. And chaos.
Starmer may be a bit dull, his team may be rather workaday but by 2024 that may well be what the public wants. So far, so good, Keir.