New New Labour?

By Martha Kool, Senior Associate

It’s finally over! The seemingly unending leadership contest that commenced when Jeremy Corbyn announced he would be standing down in December has come to a close. Sir Keir Starmer, former Shadow Brexit Secretary, was unsurprisingly elected the new Leader of the Opposition in the first round of voting.

Sir Keir is joined by new Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, who was elected in the parallel contest following Tom Watson’s resignation ahead of the December general election. Angela was officially backed by Momentum in January, but this support seemed to rely heavily on her election as one half of a partnership with Rebecca Long-Bailey. Indeed, as we neared the voting deadline, it was hard to tell if the group was even behind Angela, considering their campaigning barely mentioned her, and several local branches were openly backing Richard Burgon.

Keir’s election is a turning point for the Labour Party. After five years of Corbynism, this new leader marks a return to more centrist politics (although he has promised to keep policies from the 2017 and 2019 manifestos). For many, this change is reassuring – Keir was certainly the candidate the Tories feared most, and he brings hope that the party will return to the heights of the nineties. I was personally a big fan of Jeremy and his politics, but clearly they weren’t working for a lot of the country – and a Labour Party that doesn’t represent the people isn’t really the Labour Party at all. 

Since his election on Saturday, Keir has made several significant statements. In his (8 MINUTE LONG) thank you video, he promised to rid the Labour Party of anti-Semitism, a problem that followed the previous leadership and was responsible for the loss of many loyal members. He has today finalised his Shadow Cabinet, clearing decks with a major reshuffle.

His selections for Shadow ministerial roles have been telling. Prominent Corbyn allies have been ousted to make way for a less contentious cabinet to hold the strongest Conservative government in 30 years to account.

He has a tricky balancing act on his hands – he himself, as Shadow Brexit Secretary, backed a second referendum, and has not ruled out the UK re-joining the EU. As we all know, the Brexit issue played a massive part in Labour’s historic defeat in December, with the majority of lost seats having voted Leave. Keir is no doubt aware how careful he needs to be to appeal to both sides of the party. After all, it’s not like Corbyn was without supporters – supporters who are important as ever to keep on side. 

Appointments like Anneliese Dodds and Nick Thomas-Symonds in top jobs, as Shadow Chancellor and Shadow Home Secretary, reflect this delicate position. They are uncontroversial, pretty unknown by the public, and have not been involved in the internal disagreements of the Labour Party over the past few years.

However, Keir has put some big names in the team. Ed Miliband is returning to the Shadow Cabinet with the BEIS brief, Emily Thornberry is on International Trade, and David Lammy has Justice. Most interestingly, Rebecca Long-Bailey is Shadow Education Secretary. It’s an eclectic mix and shows commitment to covering all bases in terms of supporters. I also think it’s just quite nice that he’s put his competitors beside him on the frontbench.

Speaking of which, I’ll also give a shout out to Lisa Nandy, who has been appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary, just because I voted for her and I’m glad she’ll still be on the shadow frontbench despite coming last in the race. Fingers crossed that next time Labour needs a new Leader, we can finally get behind a woman! 

Obviously, Keir, Angela, and their new team are taking on these positions in unprecedented times. The Conservative Government has been forced to implement Labour policies to keep the country on its feet(ish), and the priority of any opposition party right now is to work collaboratively on getting through the current crisis. So, we may have to wait a while to see what Labour’s new leader is capable of, but hopefully in the meantime he will be the best person to hold the Government to account on how they deal with this global situation. 

It’s definitely not what I’m most looking forward to about this crisis coming to an end (puuuub), but it will be interesting to see where this new leadership takes Labour. I’m sure there are a lot of us (though maybe not all of my Nudge friends) hoping that it will be somewhere spectacular. 

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