Keir Starmer's latest lurch to the right has cemented Blairism at the helm of the Labour Party once again, writes Terina Hine
Keir Starmer has a new front bench. It is his second reshuffle in just over six months and the second to be overshadowed by a row with his Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner.
And although this time Starmer appeared to get the team he wanted and managed to hammer the final nails in the coffin of the Labour left, the shambolic nature of the reshuffle dominated early reports, with the focus once again on his divided party.
So while Angela Rayner was condemning Tory corruption, proposing policies to address Westminster sleaze, and doing the job of an opposition party - ie holding the government to account - her boss was stealing the little media attention not focussed on the new Covid variant, with a reshuffle she knew nothing about.
For Starmer, even if the optics weren’t quite what he’d hoped, the outcome was. He now has his dream team of Blairites, having cleared the shadow cabinet of all residual left wingers. With the resignation of Cat Smith at the outset, citing Starmer's failure to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn, the rout was complete.
The soft left were also under attack - Ed Miliband lost his business brief - no doubt as punishment for supporting public ownership just as Starmer was backtracking on the policy. Miliband was replaced by Jonathan Reynolds, described by the free paper for City of London commuters, City AM, as "popular in the Square Mile” for his defence of the financial service industry. Reynolds, perhaps in a bid for the job he now holds, spoke out against the nationalisation of energy firms in October, so no doubt he will go far.
Old timer Yvette Cooper was promoted to Shadow Home Secretary, on the back of her run as Chair of the Home Affairs select committee, a move welcomed by the media. As part of the old establishment Cooper is trusted as a safe pair of hands.
But as people are drowning in the Channel and walls are erected around Europe, Cooper should not be trusted to challenge the government’s anti immigration rhetoric. Her record as Shadow Home Secretary from 2011-15, when Theresa May was running the Home Office and imposing her hostile environment, was unimpressive to say the least. She capitulated to the Tory anti-immigration agenda, enabled and encouraged anti-immigrant sentiment, presided over Labour’s objectionable “controls on immigration mugs” and proposed a two-tier benefits system that would see migrants entitled to less than other claimants.
Then there’s Wes Streeting, darling of the Labour right, and touted by some as future Labour leader. Streeting was rewarded with the shadow health brief, replacing Jonathan Ashworth. A prominent right winger, Streeting made his name by condemning Corbyn and the direction the party took under his leadership. Following the 2019 election defeat, Streeting loudly denounced Corbyn, Corbynism, Labour’s record on antisemitism, and the election manifesto on which he had won his own seat. This is undoubtedly a promotion based on political ideology rather than skill or experience with the brief.
This reshuffle did not just focus on filling posts but on which posts to fill. Starmer failed to replace the shadow cabinet member for employment rights, a position created under Corbyn that did not directly shadow a ministerial role. The post was designed to direct Labour’s policy development in an area ignored by the traditional party of business.
The role of Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections has been unfilled since Andy McDonald resigned in September in opposition to Labour failing to back the £15 minimum wage. That the role is now obsolete speaks volumes about Starmer’s view of workers, trade unions and the rights of those the party of labour is supposed to represent. Last week Starmer told the CBI that Labour is ready to “back business”, it appears it will do so paying little heed to workers’ rights.
In a moment of startling clarity Starmer described his new team as “a smaller, more focused shadow cabinet that mirrors the shape of the government we are shadowing”. Unfortunately that is exactly what it is - a mirror image of the Tory party posing as opposition. The radical momentum within Labour, inspired by Corbyn, has evaporated; for genuine opposition it is time to look to the trade unions and social movements.
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