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Labour Reshuffle: Who Might Be In And Out Of Keir Starmer's Top Team

·Political correspondent, HuffPost UK
·8-min read

As the results came in, the pattern was clear and, for Labour activists, painfully familiar.

Keir Starmer, the man elected to stop the bleed in the party’s so-called red wall, was instead presiding over yet more red ruin.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives had not only captured the totemic Westminster seat of Hartlepool – a Labour constituency since its inception – but a slew of English council seats from County Durham to Dudley were turning from red to blue.

Despite a scramble to manage expectations by Labour HQ, there could be no glossing over the fact these were terrible results, with Starmer rejected by much of its previous working-class base.

Starmer did not quell speculation he will embark on a reshuffle in response to the drubbing, telling reporters on Friday his party has “lost the trust of working people” and he will do “whatever it takes” to restore it.

So, who might he look to in order to shake things up? Here are some of the options.

On The Way Up

Labour's shadow schools minister Wes Streeting could be in line for a promotion (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour's shadow schools minister Wes Streeting could be in line for a promotion (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Wes Streeting

Viewed as a rising star hungry to do battle with the Tory benches, the shadow schools minister grew up in a council flat in Stepney and went on to study at Cambridge.

A moderate and vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Streeting has become a close ally of Starmer’s in recent months, repeatedly taking to the airwaves to defend the party’s new direction.

As the country recovers from coronavirus, Labour may see the Tories as vulnerable on social mobility and the widening opportunity gap between rich and poor.

It is for this reason, many tip Streeting to take the education brief from Kate Green, who some feel has failed to land blows on Gavin Williamson despite the A-Levels fiasco and a series of cuts.

“Wes would be Gavin Williamson’s worst nightmare,” said one Labour source.

It is also possible, however, that Streeting’s confident media performances could be placed in a more strategic role, such as shadowing Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office role.

His previous support for the People’s Vote campaign could hamper his chances, however, with Starmer keen to draw a line under Brexit.

Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who spearheaded the Tory sleaze drive is tipped for a big job (Photo: LEON NEAL via Getty Images)
Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who spearheaded the Tory sleaze drive is tipped for a big job (Photo: LEON NEAL via Getty Images)

Rachel Reeves

Widely tipped to replace Anneliese Dodds as shadow chancellor, Leeds West MP Reeves is one of the few shadow ministers with previous frontbench experience.

Seen as on the right of the party, Reeves served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet and is seen as having won trust and respect among those the left by leading the campaign against “Tory sleaze”.

Though still controversial with some in her party because of past comments on benefits, her frequent media appearances are testament to Starmer’s faith in her abilities.

A former economist for the Bank of England and British Embassy in Washington, Reeves is not thought to have any competition if Starmer is searching for a new face to take on Rishi Sunak at the despatch box.

Jess Phillips could be in line for a promotion  (Photo: Yui MokPA)
Jess Phillips could be in line for a promotion (Photo: Yui MokPA)

Jess Phillips

One of Starmer’s most high-profile frontbenchers, the shadow domestic violence minister led party calls for action after Sarah Everard’s murder.

The Birmingham Yardley MP has a forthright style and, though Starmer may view her as something of a loose cannon, he is said to highly prize her work campaigning on homelessness, domestic killings and violence against women.

Phillips, who was the moderates’ candidate for leadership when Corbyn stepped down, is also a strong communicator, both online and on broadcast, and comfortable with the “red wall” voters Starmer fears the party has lost touch with.

The 39-year-old has previously voiced an ambition to be home secretary, which is a brief Starmer may consider for her, but possible alternatives may be shadow equalities secretary.

She may also be considered for the role of shadow employment rights secretary should Starmer wish to move Corbyn ally Andy McDonald.

On the way out?

Anneliese Dodds, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, is thought not to have landed any blows on Rishi Sunak (Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)
Anneliese Dodds, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, is thought not to have landed any blows on Rishi Sunak (Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)

Anneliese Dodds

Starmer’s choice for shadow chancellor, the most important appointment for any leader, has attracted regular criticism.

Her allies point out her difficult task in facing Rishi Sunak while the occupant of Number 11 has handed out huge sums of cash via the furlough scheme and other Covid support.

But many feel Dodds has failed to nail her opponent when he was weak on free school meals cuts, the Eat Out To Help Out debacle and the Greensill Capital scandal.

Prevaricating over whether Labour would back a wealth tax and hiring a former advisor of John McDonnell’s also fanned concerns about whether she was suitable.

Demoting his own pick for such a crucial job would inevitably invite criticism of Starmer’s judgement, however, and Dodds is well-liked and viewed as knowledgeable among MPs.

But, equally, if Starmer refused to consider a move, he may face the charge of tinkering around the edges.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is a solid media performer but is connected to Jeremy Corbyn's era in power  (Photo: House of Commons - PA Images via Getty Images)
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is a solid media performer but is connected to Jeremy Corbyn's era in power (Photo: House of Commons - PA Images via Getty Images)

Jonathan Ashworth

The shadow health secretary has been in post since 2016 and was appointed by Corbyn, despite not sharing the former leader’s left-wing outlook.

Sources have suggested Starmer is keen for a reset on health policy, especially as the NHS is traditionally Labour’s strongest campaign issue and Johnson’s approach to social care may soon be a key dividing line.

Others have underlined that sacking Ashworth, whose current knowledge of the brief is likely to be unrivalled, during the pandemic would be a misstep.

Questions over whether Ashworth has briefed against Starmer and his staff to journalists have been swirling, however.

“He is acting like he has already lost his job,” said one source.

Liz Kendall, Justin Madders, Rosena Allin-Khan and Lucy Powell are among the names touted as his replacement.

Emily Thornberry during the Labour leadership hustings (Photo: Danny Lawson - PA Images via Getty Images)
Emily Thornberry during the Labour leadership hustings (Photo: Danny Lawson - PA Images via Getty Images)

Emily Thornberry

Relations between the shadow trade secretary and Starmer are thought to have been rocky in recent months.

Starmer demoted his leadership rival from her role as shadow foreign secretary last year and there are suggestions he could go further.

Despite her combative scrutiny of Liz Truss, Thornberry has been increasingly sidelined in recent months, rarely, if ever, appearing on the media.

Her previous comments about the St George’s flag are also seen by Starmer’s allies as undermining the party’s attempts to appear more patriotic.

It is possible she is offered an alternative role as shadow leader of the Commons, should long-serving Valerie Vaz wish to move on, but it’s not clear Thornberry would accept.

Starmer might consider bringing in a well-known “big beast” as her replacement, such as former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn.

What else could Starmer do?

Lisa Nandy (Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)
Lisa Nandy (Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)

Starmer will be desperate to show working class voters he is listening and may look to boost the role of Wigan MP and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy.

Her policy work on reviving the party’s offer to towns is highly rated and sources say he is keen for her to be seen on broadcast media more often.

A sideways move to the Home Office role, replacing Nick Thomas-Symonds, to shadow Priti Patel may be on the cards.

It would see Nandy front and centre of efforts to make the party credible on issues like crime and immigration, something vital to securing support in the red wall.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner’s role as elections chief has also been questioned, with some saying she lacks experience of marginal battles.

Others lay the blame for defeats at the door of former Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, Starmer’s campaign chief, though the leader is said to remain loyal to her.

Ian Murray, who is helping Anas Sarwar to lead a resurgence in Scotland, and Chris Bryant, whose local party has ousted Plaid Cymru’s former leader Leanne Wood in the Rhondda in the Welsh assembly elections, are said to have strong cases for expanded attacking roles.

Steve Reed, shadow communities secretary (Photo: Aaron Chown - PA Images via Getty Images)
Steve Reed, shadow communities secretary (Photo: Aaron Chown - PA Images via Getty Images)

Should Rachel Reeves’ potential elevation to shadow chancellor create a vacancy as shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Starmer will need a strategic brain.

He may choose one of his key allies, such as Steve Reed or Bridget Phillipson, to battle Michael Gove. Rayner may also be approached.

It is a high-profile spot that entails building on the success Reeves has had scrutinising Johnson’s rule-breaking in the wake of the cash for curtains scandal and questions over PPE contracts.

It is not clear whether Marsha de Cordova’s position as shadow equalities minister is safe, despite fears about the optics of removing a black, disabled woman from his top team. Flo Eshalomi and Taiwo Owatemi could be options that allow Starmer to demonstrate a clear break with the Corbyn era.

Starmer may also choose to stamp his authority on the Parliamentary Labour Party by removing long-serving chief whip Nick Brown, potentially to make way for Alan Campbell.

Others in line for promotion include Sarah Jones, who is currently shadow policing minister, and Chi Onwurah, who has long been tipped for shadow business secretary. It is unlikely, however, that Ed Miliband will relinquish his climate change responsibilities ahead of the COP 26 conference.

Alison McGovern, shadow sports minister and Wirral MP, and Alex Norris may be asked to step up if Starmer’s reshuffle is wide-ranging.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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