Whatever his rhetoric during the leadership campaign, Keir Starmer — North London liberal, member of Corbyn’s top team, Remainer and technocrat — has seemed perfectly poised to continue the Labour Party’s shift from a party of the regional working class to a party for graduates and the metropolitan young.
By putting Lisa Nandy — the most ‘Leave-friendly’ of the leadership candidates — in the shadow Foreign Secretary job he has kept her away from her main agenda of towns and left-behind places. Sure enough her first move in post was to wade in on Israeli settlements in the West Bank (hardly the number one priority for the old ‘red wall’ seats Labour so desperately needs to get back).
But one appointment in Sir Keir’s new team made us sit up and take notice: Claire Ainsley, formerly of the Rowntree Foundation, is to be his head of policy.
Anyone who has heard Claire talk while at Rowntree will know how much she saw it as an ‘somewhere’ rather than an ‘anywhere’ organisation — deeply rooted in the area around York where its founder came from.
She is pretty clear-eyed about the political shift away from economic and social liberalism, and the new centrality of social, culture and identity issues in British politics. She openly talks about how people don’t always act in economically self-interested ways, and that nation and faith matter. That’s already quite a big deal in Labour circles.
Check out this research she did about local people feeling ‘let down, ignored and patronised’ over Brexit, and this piece in the Times in which she even uses the F-word (family, that is) as one of the cornerstone values of working class voters. She’s hardly an ultra traditionalist on these issues — ‘more EP Thompson than R H Tawney’ as one friend put it — but even using the word ‘family’ is not something that Labour has been comfortable doing for decades.
As director of Rowntree she helped fund a project by popular Conservative think tank Onward into ‘repairing our social fabric’, and sat on the steering board alongside James O’Shaughnessy, Danny Kruger and Vidya Alakeson. She has stepped down from that position now that she works for Starmer, but here’s hoping she brings some of these ideas with her into Labour’s top team.