In a surprise move, reports of an imminent reshuffle began to leak as Rayner gave a key press conference on how Labour would clean up politics and banish corruption.
Instead of fielding questions about her party’s plans to overhaul the standards system governing MPs, the deputy leader was put on the spot and asked about the shakeup of Starmer’s frontbench.
She replied: “I don’t know the details of any reshuffle, I’ve been concentrating on the job at hand.”
The row —which bears the hallmarks of May’s failed reshuffle, in which Starmer sacked and then reinstated Rayner to other posts — risked overshadowing the entire operation.
In the event, Starmer enacted a wide-ranging overhaul of his top team.
Yvette Cooper returns to Labour’s frontbench as shadow home secretary and will take on Priti Patel over the migrant crisis.
Cooper is a former cabinet minister and the current chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, who was shadow home secretary, takes on international trade in what is ostensibly a demotion.
Starmer also handed big promotions to two of Labour’s rising stars, Bridget Phillipson and Wes Streeting, who take on the roles of shadow education secretary and shadow health secretary.
Jonathan Ashworth, who has had the health brief through the pandemic, is moved to shadow work and pensions secretary.
In other moves, Lisa Nandy will face off against Michael Gove as shadow secretary for levelling up and communities. She will be replaced as shadow foreign secretary by David Lammy.
Former leader Ed Miliband becomes shadow climate change secretary, while Jonathan Reynolds takes on his former portfolio of business, energy and industrial strategy.
Elsewhere, Lucy Powell becomes shadow culture secretary, Jim McMahon gets environment, Louise Haigh goes to transport and Steve Reed gets justice.
The veteran former minister Pat McFadden becomes shadow treasury chief secretary while former leadership contender Emily Thornberry is the shadow attorney general.
Peter Kyle enters the shadow cabinet as shadow Northern Ireland secretary while Jo Stevens becomes shadow Welsh secretary.
Those leaving include the former shadow education secretary Kate Green, the former shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard and the Blair-era veteran Lord Falconer, who announced he was stepping down as shadow attorney general.
Cat Smith, the shadow secretary of state for young people and democracy, will stand down from her post despite being offered to stay.
In a letter to Starmer, she expressed dismay that former leader Jeremy Corbyn — who currently sits as an independent — had not had the Labour whip reinstated, a situation she said was “utterly unsustainable”.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, party chair Anneliese Dodds and shadow defence secretary John Healey are among those remaining in their current posts.
A warm welcome to the new Shadow Cabinet team and a heartfelt thank you to those who have left.
The Labour Party I lead is focused on the priorities of our country and holding the Conservative Government to account.
With Labour, Britain’s best days are ahead. pic.twitter.com/isHyfTqH9h
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) November 29, 2021
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.