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Keir Starmer says Labour shadow cabinet reshuffle puts ‘strongest players on the pitch’ ahead of next election

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave his deputy Angela Rayner a new role as part of his shake-up (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave his deputy Angela Rayner a new role as part of his shake-up (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Sir Keir Starmer said his shadow cabinet reshuffle meant Labour has the “strongest possible players on the pitch” ahead of the next election.

The biggest winner in the top team shake-up looked to be his deputy Angela Rayner, who was given the wide-ranging levelling-up brief and formally appointed shadow deputy prime minister.

The decision to move Ms Rayner, who had previously been shadowing the Cabinet Office, led to Lisa Nandy being demoted from her job opposite Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove and switched to covering the international development brief.

It means the Wigan MP, who rivalled Sir Keir for the leadership in 2020, is now deputy to shadow foreign secretary David Lammy — a position he replaced her in a little under two years ago.

We now have the strongest possible players on the pitch for what is going to be a crucial part of the journey

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

A source close to Ms Nandy signalled there would be no dissent over her relegation, stating that she is a “team player” and was looking forward to “getting stuck into her new role”.

Sir Keir defended the change, saying the international development post would be “crucially important” to a future Labour government’s plans to “reset our position” on the world stage.

The widely-tipped shift of moving Ms Rayner to the levelling-up brief – a role that takes in housing, devolution and scrutinising the Conservative Government’s pledge to create economic opportunities outside London and the South East – went more smoothly for the leader than the reshuffle in May 2021.

Ms Rayner, as part of negotiations with Sir Keir, — who wanted to move her from her party chairman post after the Hartlepool by-election defeat — saw her emerge in a stronger position with a bolstered set of responsibilities.

Sir Keir’s tinkering with his front bench on Monday, which started at 9am and was completed by lunchtime, saw allies handed promotions, including Shabana Mahmood, who made the jump from national campaign co-ordinator to shadow justice secretary.

A key ally to the Opposition leader, the Birmingham Ladywood MP is understood to have been given her new role as a reward for helping to reshape the party’s campaign machine and overseeing by-election and local election successes since her appointment two years ago.

Liz Kendall, who unsuccessfully ran for the leadership in 2015 against Jeremy Corbyn and is considered to be on the right of the party, was promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary after impressing in her former social care brief.

Pat McFadden, a former political secretary to ex-prime minister Sir Tony Blair, moves from shadow Treasury chief secretary to shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, while also taking on the campaign co-ordinator position vacated by Ms Mahmood’s promotion.

Rising star Darren Jones, who had made a name for himself grilling ministers in his position as chairman of the Business and Trade Select Committee, was given Mr McFadden’s previous post.

Sir Keir also filled his shadow cabinet with more experience, appointing Hilary Benn as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. He served in the cabinet during Labour’s last time in power.

Speaking to broadcasters in Westminster about his revamp, Sir Keir said his reforms to the party meant he was “now in position to put our top team on the table, to show it to the country”.

He said: “I think what is important is to recognise that with this reshuffle, we now have the strongest possible players on the pitch for what is going to be a crucial part of the journey.”

He said Ms Rayner’s job switch had been about putting her in a role that is “crucial to the rebuilding of our country”.

Other changes made saw Lucy Powell and Thangam Debbonaire effectively undergo a job swap, with Ms Powell moved over to shadow Commons leader and Ms Debbonaire taking over the culture brief.

There were demotions for Jonathan Ashworth and Nick Thomas-Symonds, who were removed from their work and pensions and international trade briefs respectively and given lesser Cabinet Office-shadowing roles.

Mr Ashworth, in his new position as paymaster general, is expected to play a central role at the next general election.

Steve Reed was shifted from justice to environment, taking Jim McMahon’s role after he resigned to focus on his health.

In a move that put Monday’s reshuffle into gear, Mr McMahon, who had been tipped to lose his job, offered his continued support for Sir Keir but said he wanted to “focus on getting my health back to full strength”.

Elsewhere, Rosen Allin-Khan announced she was quitting as shadow mental health minister after she said Sir Keir had refused to bump up the position.

In a letter posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, the qualified doctor told Sir Keir: “As discussed previously, and in our call earlier, you made clear that you do not see a space for a mental health portfolio in a Labour cabinet, which is why I told you many weeks ago that I would not be able to continue in this role.”

The pre-election shake-up came on the same day that former top civil servant and partygate investigator Sue Gray started her new role as the Labour leader’s chief of staff.

The anti-sleaze watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, had recommended a six-month delay to her starting the job with Sir Keir – advice Labour accepted.

Greg Hands, chairman of the Tory Party, said: “This reshuffle shows Sir Keir Starmer offers no new ideas, just more of the same old short-term approach to politics which has failed this country.

“He constantly changes positions to win votes, showing he doesn’t have the strength of character to lead Britain.”