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Keir Starmer is tempting fate by demoting Lisa Nandy

Out of sight, out of mind? Credit: Getty

September 4, 2023 - 4:15pm

Lisa Nandy has been the most prominent victim of Sir Keir Starmer’s mini-reshuffle. Her pivot away from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to shadowing a department that doesn’t fully exist (International Development) is a clear demotion. It sparks questions about how the Labour leader intends to govern, and how he will manage factions in his party should he win the next election. It also sparks interesting questions about Nandy’s overall trajectory. 

In recent weeks it has become clear that housing will be a central plank of a future Labour campaign, and any government it forms after that. The party has already announced policies around new towns and is edging towards embracing planning reform, while there is agreement within the Shadow Cabinet that building more houses is a way to achieve prosperity and fairness. Nandy herself has driven much of this. Moving her now seems like a plan to stop her being a big hitter in a future cabinet. 

Nandy is obviously ambitious. She stood in the leadership contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn, placing third behind Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey. She is also popular, respected in her role and capable when called upon to address the media. She has become a favoured figure among the soft-Left of the Labour Party and is generally perceived as smart and likeable. Today’s demotion points to something like an internal power struggle. 

So too does Starmer’s choice of replacement. By moving Angela Rayner to shadow DLUHC, he has boosted the power and influence of his Deputy Leader (elected by the party — he can’t move her from that), as well as confirming that Rayner will officially be deputy prime minister should Labour take power. This bolsters her standing and reassures her supporters against rumours that he might seek to sideline her. With this brief, Rayner rather than Nandy will be closer to the key policies of Starmerism. 

The move leaves Nandy in a curious position, as there is little to do when shadowing DfID. International development is hard to bring attention to, nor is there much space for policy innovation especially as it is no longer a proper department. Put bluntly, Labour’s view on foreign aid and how it is used is unlikely to move much regardless of who is holding the position, and in any event is unlikely to give voters sleepless nights. It’s a good role for someone passionately interested in the area, but more generally amounts to a sidelining. It furthers Nandy’s fall from once being shadow foreign secretary and hints that she might not even make it to the Cabinet after the election.

In the long run, this could be an interesting move for Labour. It’s been a long time since a PM entered and left Downing Street via a general election. If Starmer wins power, there is a good chance he relinquishes it to another Labour PM, rather than a Tory. Once the honeymoon of his government is over, he will face the same politicking from the backbenches that others have. A dispossessed Nandy could be a key figure in this. 

Today’s reshuffle suggests that she does not feature centrally in his plans — certainly not enough to have a key policy position, in spite of her obvious ability. It also suggests she doesn’t yet have the power to be seriously disruptive. This may change in future, and with her still young and ambitious, Starmer could be planting the seeds not just for future quarrels but for the leadership campaign that eventually follows him. We will hear less of Nandy now she is shadowing DfID, but it is unlikely to be the last we see of her. 


John Oxley is a corporate strategist and political commentator. His Substack is Joxley Writes.

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N Satori
N Satori
10 months ago

Interesting that Starmer is virtually forced to give Angela Rayner a job of some sort due to her popularity with the Labour grass roots. Down-to-earth egalitarian bluster always plays well with them. In that way she could be seen as the new John Prescott.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

Some odd party analysis in this new online journal. Lisa N is not really a political personality with enough heft to be a serious leadership contender. She has no clear faction supporting her either.
The key impulse behind Labour is the campaign to try to join the euro again. This is driven by the neoliberal kingmakers who push the party in the media as well as the union barons who would like to see Eurozone alignment keep taxes high, with exponentially greater public spending justified by EU trade benefits.
In that vein, Ms Reeves and Master Streeting are the key Sir Keir competitors- the latter interested in introducing a European social insurance model to re-bankroll the NHS, which should entice Eurozone corporations.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
10 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I always thought Nandy one of the best Labour people: pragmatic when that made sense and with enough political nous to use populist rhetoric. Like Starmer and Reeves, she is inclined to say whatever she thinks will get votes. But unlike them, not when it doesn’t make sense, or when it’s a contradiction of an earlier position.

Reeves and Streeting are a pair of wet blankets. But if we must have an NHS, one reform idea that should be considered is a social insurance model, like Germany. This allows people to trade up with cover and ends up with more money going into the system overall. Hence Germany’s far superior diagnostics capacity.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
10 months ago

Vote Starmer, get Blair.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Yep – Blair and Mandelson are actively getting Labour elected again.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Barton
R S Foster
R S Foster
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

…not unlike the Third Obama Presidency, currently being fronted by Biden. My own prediction is that the incumbent will secure the nomination…and then withdraw through ill-health just as the campaign starts…although I’m not sure how the Democratic National Committee will engineer his replacement by Michelle…those better versed in the details of power-broking amongst the upper reaches of the Democratic Party might be able to advise, though?

Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Vote anyone, get Blair according to the fascinating (and depressing) long read by Tom McTague on here a few weeks ago…

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago

Nandy is just another untrustworthy politician, happy to talk up Starmer’s policy of building more houses while opposing new housing developments in her own constituency.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

It’s been a long time since a PM entered and left Downing Street via a general election.
Had to think quite a bit about that. It was Harold Wilson, first elected in 1964 (then 1966) before losing in 1970.

N Satori
N Satori
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Ted Heath? Won the GE in 1970 as Wilson lost. Lost the GE in 1974 as Wilson made a comeback. Admittedly, Heath stubbornly tried to hang on for a few days claiming the election result was not decisive but it was the GE that finished him and opened the way for Thatcher.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Possibly, but i’d be inclined to interpret a clear majority defeat as being voted out of office.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Heath didn’t claim the Feb 74 election wasn’t decisive and misleading to use that phrase. No, instead he sought to put together a coalition with the Liberals and thus did not immediately go to the Palace to resign. When that failed he went and resigned and advised the Queen to send for Wilson. Not dissimilar happened for a day or two in 2010.
Further on the ‘decisiveness’ point – in Feb 74 Tories got slightly more votes but less seats. The reverse had happened in 51 with Labour getting more votes but less seats. Neither triggered a Constitutional crisis. What might have happened had we had a Trump type politician God only knows.

Last edited 10 months ago by j watson
N Satori
N Satori
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

But aside from that rather nerdy rigmarole did he get voted out of office by the electorate or not?

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Just correcting an important fact before you get stuck with a false narrative of a conspiratorial nature Sats. These things can affect how folks think if details not explained. Always happy to help you.
And he couldn’t form a Govt with the number of seats he’d won, so essentially rejected by the electorate. But he won, as did Atlee in 51, the overall popular Vote.

N Satori
N Satori
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“narrative of a conspiratorial nature”?! Come off it watson.

Kit Read
Kit Read
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Heath’s Conservative Party got less seats than Labour but more votes (250,000?). Heat won 1970 Election as the Conservative and Unionist (Ulster) Party, if the Unionists had not split away from the Conservatives Heath would have won. There would then have been no Margaret Thatcher as leader and PM!

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

What leader doesn’t generate some disgruntlement when reshuffling, or opting not to reshuffle? When you think about it being the Leader, in power or opposition, requires you keep so many plates spinning at the same time it’s a wonder more don’t smash.
As reshuffles go this one has the politico’s struggling a bit for a story. Nandy is not a big player and also sensible enough to know unity at the moment crucial.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

Moving her now seems like a plan to stop her being a big hitter in a future cabinet. 

Or, of course, a recognition that she’s not ever going to be a “big hitter” in the way that Starmer wants.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
10 months ago

Unless they’ve done a deal?

James Kirk
James Kirk
10 months ago

I don’t think she’s that popular in her home constituency. She’s not a looker is she?