by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 30
November 2021

At last! Labour finally has a recognisable shadow cabinet

Until yesterday's reshuffle Keir Starmer appointed political pygmies
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Say what you like about Keir Starmer: at least he’s never been overshadowed by his shadow cabinet. 

He’s had the occasional clash with his deputy, Angela Rayner; but in terms of stature, there’s no contest. In a field of political pygmies he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. 

Of course, few people care about who the shadow minister for paperclips is; but in forming his shadow cabinets, Starmer seemed determined to achieve new depths of obscurity. Shadow Chancellors and Shadow Home Secretaries have been appointed and then dis-appointed without anyone noticing they were ever there.  

A Shadow Cabinet is, in theory, a government-in-waiting. It would be helpful if voters were able to form a view about its most senior members. But among moderately (if not obsessively) interested voters, how many shadow ministers have more than homeopathic levels of recognition?  

Before yesterday’s reshuffle, I’d have put the figure somewhere between four and six. Angela Rayner, Emily Thornbury, Ed Miliband and David Lammy, for sure. And perhaps Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves too. 

The appointment of Yvette Cooper as Shadow Home Secretary indicates a change of tack on Starmer’s part — as does David Lammy’s promotion to Shadow Foreign Secretary. This is a more recognisable Shadow Cabinet than it was yesterday.

On the other hand, let’s not forget that Labour has been in opposition for eleven years. By now, the party should have built-up a deeper bench. In 2008 — which was the equivalent year for the Tories — David Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet included William Hague, George Osborne, Dominic Grieve, Eric Pickles, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Oliver Letwin, David Willetts, Andrew Lansley and Francis Maude. Many of those names would become better known in subsequent years, but even at the time informed voters knew who they were. That’s not to say they were universally admired, but at least the public cared enough to have an opinion. 

Of course, in 2008, all of the Tories I’ve mentioned were just two years away from ministerial office. What’s more, it was widely assumed that they’d be forming a government before long. That’s reason enough to take an interest.

Do we believe the same of Labour today? Not until recently. In making so many lacklustre appointments, Starmer showed every sign of not believing it himself. 

However, yesterday’s reshuffle may be a sign he’s beginning to hope. 

Join the discussion

  • “It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools”

    Starmer is a poor craftsman, and his tools also need blaming. A new adage could be created just for this “A poor Craftsman with poor tools does a bad job.”

  • The trouble for a current Labour shadow cabinet is almost the same as the trouble that Starmer has. You can be somewhat anonymous or you can put your best talent forward into the limelight so everyone is reminded that they don’t trust you. They are all tainted by their/his attempts to undermine the Brexit vote. Maybe they knew it at the time and maybe they didn’t, but the stake for bet they placed on seeking a second referendum or the other shananigans in Parliament was their career. And they lost the bet.
    It may well be that they are the best talent that Starmer has available but they are also a millstone around his neck and he theirs.

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