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Keir Starmer Has Swerved Labour Row Over "Soft Left" Reshuffle Demotions

Labour leader Keir Starmer and his new Shadow Cabinet (Alamy)

4 min read

Labour leader Keir Starmer's apparent success in reshuffling his Shadow Cabinet without triggering a major public row between different wings of the parliamentary party is evidence of greater discipline within the Labour ranks, according to MPs.

One shadow minister said a determination to stay on course to win the next general election, which is due to be called in 2024, has helped even more rebellious Labour MPs to refrain from complaining about internal party politics that would usually exacerbate tensions.

"We're absolutely fired up," they said.

In particular is a lack of serious fallout over Starmer's decision on Monday to demote two prominent members of his top team whose affiliations sit further left than his own: Lisa Nandy who was replaced by deputy leader Angela Rayner as shadow levelling up secretary, considered to be a key brief in the run-up to an election, and Rosena Allin-Khan, who will no longer hold the role of shadow mental health minister. 

Both are figures in Labour's "soft left" and their demotions prompted accusations from the far-left figures that Starmer had pushed Shadow Cabinet further to the "Blairite" right, excluding more left-leaning parts of the party.

While Nandy is widely regarded as one of the party's most impressive performers and considered to be highly-suited to the levelling up brief as a result of prominent interest in improving communities in the north of England, her new role as shadow minister for international development is widely-seen as a demotion. 

It is understood that Starmer's team believed Nandy had been disloyal, making remarks to colleagues that are critical of the Labour leader, according to party sources. A Labour MP who is an admirer of Nandy acknowledged that she can be "a loose cannon".

Allies of Nandy say allegations of disloyalty towards Starmer have never been backed up with concrete examples, and point to the fact that she accepted her new job as evidence of allegience to the Labour leader. 

A source close to her said: “We’re proud of the work Lisa has done, spearheading some of our most exciting policy in housing and devolution.

“Lisa is a team player and looks forward to getting stuck into the new role.”

Rosena Allin-Khan's departure as shadow health minister was also seen as a potential flashpoint.

The MP for Tooting had been in talks with Starmer about the future of the role in the weeks leading up to the reshuffle, with the former pushing for more Cabinet-level recognition, PoliticsHome understands. In the end, Allin-Khan left the role and the Labour leader gave it to Abena Oppong-Asare in a watered-down form, combining it with women's health. 

Allin-Khan was situated within the shadow health brief, led by shadow secretary of state Wes StreetingPoliticsHome understands that communication issues arose between the two of them, including over whether Allin-Khan should submit mental health policy proposals to Streeting or direct to Starmer ahead of next month's party conference in Liverpool.

"Wes always wins," one Labour MP wryly observed.

There are also some grumbles that it had been tough for members of the Shadow Cabinet to make an impact in their respective briefs, which is what is demanded by Starmer, while Rachel Reeves' Shadow Treasury team enforces strict restrictions on policy pledges which come with spending implications. 

But Starmer's team had made it through the reshuffle without any major drama or conflict. Grievances have largely remained private, with even figures who have briefed media choosing not to put their heads above the parapet. 

Starmer's decision to put half a dozen former Blair and Brown-era special advisers (SpAds) in his top team, which include former leadership contender Liz Kendall (shadow work and pensions secretary) and Hilary Benn (shadow Northern Ireland secretary), is seen as the Labour leader ensuring he has as much experience of government as possible in the early stages of a Labour government.

"We're going to need that," said one Shadow Cabinet member.

PoliticsHome reported on Wednesday that at the first meeting of the new Shadow Cabinet on Tuesday, Starmer's top team was given a presentation on "pessimism" among the public and the challenge they face convincing voters that Labour can fix the problems facing them.

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