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2 March 2023

Rachel vs Wes: Labour’s front-bench battle of the comics

The shadow chancellor had fun at the Press Gallery lunch.

By The Chatterer

The jokes came thick and fast at the Press Gallery lunch in Westminster today (2 March). Here, politicians snipe at their colleagues in the privacy of a cosy room in parliament that contains just them and the nation’s press. The shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves started her speech with a well-timed put down of the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who rarely goes a weekend without appearing in a Sunday supplement. As Reeves put it: “If there is a journalist in this room who hasn’t heard Wes’s life story, don’t worry, he will be sure to send you a copy of his autobiography when it’s published in June.”

Streeting, a more boisterous member of the shadow cabinet than Reeves, joked when he spoke in October that Keir Starmer has given conference speeches that lasted longer than the entire Liz Truss era. Reeves must have been impressed. The Chatterer couldn’t help notice that her jibe about a lettuce outliving Truss sounded remarkably similar to Streeting’s. Now that’s message discipline. 

As she went on, Reeves reeled off the greatest hits, from Rishi Sunak’s penchant for private jets to Truss’s preternaturally accurate tweet that she would “hit the ground” – not “hit the ground running” – as prime minister. Elsewhere, the shadow chancellor revealed that inadvertent comedian Matt Hancock was on her graduate scheme at the Bank of England – a stronger indictment of the Bank than Truss could ever muster.

In her peroration, Reeves revealed she was visiting the US in May to learn from the Democrats. That’s not the scoop some journos might have wanted given how keen Labour’s front bench are to associate with centre-left parties actually in government. But they needn’t worry, the Chatterer hears that other shadow cabinet members are jostling for the next speaking spot when Starmer delivers his comedic tour de force later this month. We can’t wait. 

[See also: Rachel Reeves’ Diary: Labour’s leaders at Davos]

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