The Labour MP could challenge her leader in the future
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.
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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.