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6 July 2024updated 08 Jul 2024 3:59pm

Keir Starmer appoints a continuity cabinet

There are few surprises, as Labour opts for stability over flair.

By Freddie Hayward

Keir Starmer’s transition into No 10 was seamless. After his arrival on Downing Street – where key aides such as Sue Gray and Morgan McSweeney awaited – he started to appoint his cabinet. Signalling her importance, Angela Rayner was the first to be announced, as deputy prime minister and secretary for levelling up, housing and communities. Even though “levelling up” has been neglected by Labour throughout the campaign, and Rayner has rarely mentioned the phrase since taking over from Lisa Nandy in September 2023, Starmer chose to retain the department’s name – an immediate sign that he will place policy delivery over superficial changes to Whitehall’s typography. 

The cabinet that followed prioritised stability. Starmer promised in his speech on Downing Street to move beyond the chaos of the past few years, a defining feature of which has been the three chancellors and five education secretaries in a single year. Only without frequent reshuffles and the accompanying infighting can politics tread lightly on people’s lives.

On a more practical level, Starmer thinks the constant ministerial churn in Whitehall leads to short-term policy making and precludes ministers with a firm grip of their brief. That’s why he has been telling the shadow cabinet to prepare for government for months now. David Lammy, for instance, has visited 17 countries in the Global South since becoming shadow foreign secretary in June 2022. Wes Streeting developed a strategy to deal with the doctors’ union strikes, and Bridget Phillipson created a childcare policy. Moving people into new roles would have rendered that preparation redundant.

Which is why Keir Starmer’s first cabinet – and Labour’s first cabinet in 14 years – was defined by continuity. Rachel Reeves became the first female chancellor, as expected. David Lammy was sent to the Foreign Office. Ditto Yvette Cooper to the Home Office. John Healey presides over defence, while Shabana Mahmood will take over the troubled justice department, and Steve Reed leads on environment. Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign general who will be a driving force in the government, has been made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which means he has responsibility for overseeing the Whitehall machine.

There were a few surprises. Lisa Nandy, who was demoted in 2022 to shadow international development minister, has been promoted to culture secretary to replace Thangam Debbonaire who lost her Bristol Central seat in the election. As I reported in December, Nandy was impressing Starmer’s office with her work on Gaza. Her new role is a clear sign that Starmer wants her at the heart of government.

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Emily Thornberry, who unsuccessfully ran for leader alongside Starmer in 2020, was not made attorney general despite shadowing the role. Instead, Starmer has appointed the deputy high court judge Richard Hermer who has been made a peer. Hermer was the first sign that the Prime Minister was keen to appoint those from outside Westminster with expertise.

He was followed by Patrick Vallance, the former government’s scientific adviser of Covid press conference fame, who was made the science minister. James Timpson, whose key-cutting and cobblers business Timpson’s employs ex-offenders, has been made a life peer and prisons minister. Timpson is chair of the Prisons Reform Trust and has worked on getting prisoners into the work place.

The importance of this cabinet lies in the fact that its personnel – if Starmer’s previous comments are anything to go by – will have longer in post than is usually the case, giving each minister the time to understand their brief and implement the change that Labour promised at the general election.

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