On Sunday morning at 10.45, Keir Starmer will be announced as the new leader of the Labour Party. It’s difficult to imagine any other outcome. The result will be put out in a press release rather than at a triumphant rally.
In some ways, Sir Keir takes over at the worst possible time, given that it will be difficult for him to gain much traction given the coronavirus crisis.
But in other ways he takes over at a time when the Labour Party is in the doldrums and the only way is up. He’s there for the long haul. No one imagines he can turn around Labour’s dire fortunes in six months, but give him four years, and who knows?
He inherits a party which got pasted at the last election, and has shown little signs of understanding why. Indeed, it could be said that Sir Keir himself has avoided answering that hard question during the leadership contest.
There’s a reason for that. He was the architect of Labour’s disastrous Brexit policy, which few of his colleagues could explain properly and was ridiculed by commentators. But it was an indication of how Sir Keir intends to lead.
The aim of the policy was to keep the party together, and you have to say that over the previous three years he had been very successful in steering the party through political minefield after minefield.
Everyone knew he was the archest of arch-Remainers, yet he was successful in tacking towards the leavers in the Shadow Cabinet at appropriate moments. He told me in a recent interview that he realised there was no going back in the immediate future and ruled out the Labour Party standing at the next election on a platform of rejoining the EU.
Just as well. There’s no way he would have a hope in hell of rebuilding that red wall in the north and the midlands if he had succumbed to that particular temptation.
Will we see the radical Keir Starmer many people think he could be? Or will he be Safety First Keir Starmer? We’re likely to get an indication when we see who he fires from the Shadow Cabinet and who he appoints? Will it be a Shadow Cabinet of all the talents or will it be one very much in his own image?
Will he fire people like Jenny Formby, the party’s General Secretary? He may decide to leave that particular pleasure for a bit, but Labour leaders have traditionally wanted their own man or woman in that position, and you can understand why. Seaumas Milne has already fallen on his sword, and surely Carrie Murphy has to go too. That decision should be made on Day One. Signals are important.
There are rumours that Ed Miliband is pitching to be Shadow chancellor. This would be a mistake. That job should go to either Rachel Reeves or Yvette Cooper, assuming that both are willing to serve. Thet have carved out influential positions chairing two leading select committees.
But if Sir Keir Starmer is to succeed he needs to attract back the very best people who felt unable to serve under Jeremy Corbyn. Anyway, if I were him, this would be my Shadow Cabinet:
- Leader: Sir Keir Starmer
- Deputy Leader: Angela Rayner
- Home Office: Yvette Cooper
- Chancellor: Rachel Reeves
- Foreign: Emily Thornberry
- Transport: Andy McDonald
- Justice: Lucy Powell
- Work and Pensions: Jess Phillips
- Environment: Lisa Nandy
- Business: Angela Eagle
- Education: Stella Creasy
- Health: Rosena Allin-Khan
- DCMS: Tracey Brabin
- Women & Equalities: Debbie Abrahams
- International Development: Matthew Pennycook
- Leader of the House: Meg Hillier
- Leader of the Lords: Angela Smith
- Communities & Local Govt: Liz Kendall
- Cabinet Office: Andrew Gwynne
- Defence: Jonathan Ashworth
- Party Chair: Stephen Kinnock
- International Trade: Seema Malhotra
- Northern Ireland: Louise Haigh
- Employment: Anneliese Dodds
- Wales: Stephen Doughty
- Scotland: Ian Murray
- Chief Secretary: Jonathan Reynolds
This would mean there would be 17 women out of a shadow cabinet of 28, with women in all the top three positions. Only seven of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would survive.
I would choose media friendly spokespeople, and back them up with deputies who are more on the policy wonkish side of things. Having said all that, if I’m right on half of them I’d be pleasantly surprised.
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Over the last few days I’ve been tweeting out a daily video of my bookshelves.
An odd thing to do, you may think, but in these very odd times people like a diversion. I have a massive collection of political biographies and autobiographies, so I’m doing them by letter each day.
Today’s letter will be J. It’s astonishing how people seem to object to my having books about particular politicians on display.
According to one respondent, having books about or by Tony Blair disqualifies me as a serious political commentator.
Christ alone knows that he made of my three biographies of Hitler. He’s the sort of person who would happily burn books by people he didn’t agree with. The intolerance of some people on the Left never ceases to shock me.