New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
14 October 2016updated 04 Oct 2023 10:42am

Who’s who in the Labour shadow cabinet?

The opposition frontbench at a glance.

Who is appointed to the Labour shadow cabinet has always been a cause for minor controversy, but the spotlight has been even more on the opposition frontbench since June. It started when the original shadow cabinet began resigning in the aftermath of Brexit. For a strange time over the summer, it seemed like loyalty to the embattled leader was enough to earn you a spot in the top team. But now that Jeremy Corbyn has decisively won his re-election, the power has shifted. So who, in the era of Corbynism, are the chosen ones? We give you the lowdown:

Leader of the Labour party: Jeremy Corbyn

In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in June, the MP for Islington North was abandoned by one after another of his shadow cabinet and faced a leadership challenge from Owen Smith. The shadow cabinet limped on with the help of Corbyn loyalists, and in September, Corbyn beat his rival to win a second overwhelming mandate for party leadership. 

Corbyn’s victory confirmed the party’s shift to the left, but for some dissidents in the parliamentary Labour party, the problems with the leader were primarily about his managerial style and character. Has Corbyn learnt from the coup? To lose one shadow cabinet would be misfortune, but to lose two would be carelessness. 

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer: John McDonnell

Scourge of New Labour and veteran of the party’s left, John McDonnell has long been an ally of Corbyn. The MP for Hayes and Harlington ran the Labour leader’s initial leadership campaign, and was rewarded with the shadow chancellorship once he had won. He has held the same position ever since, surviving a few gaffes ranging from briefly supporting George Osborne’s fiscal charter to brandishing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book during the Autumn Statement last year.

Before becoming shadow chancellor, McDonnell – an MP since 1997 – was chiefly known for his work on the Greater London Council, attempting to enter the Labour leadership race in 2010 (he didn’t get the nominations), and controversial remarks about the IRA that nearly got him suspended. While McDonnell’s more polished media style sometimes has commentators’ tongues wagging (and a few socialists privately pining) about him replacing Corbyn, he is a less palatable figure among the PLP; it’s likely he would never have made the ballot as Corbyn did. But his tenure as shadow chancellor is a secure one.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Deputy leader of the Labour party: Tom Watson

The MP for West Bromwich East was elected to his position at the same time as Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, and attempted to remain a bridge between the parliamentary Labour party and his leader as relations deteriorated. But Watson and Corbyn were soon at blows. The deputy leader complained the party was being infiltrated by “Trotskyists”, and Corbyn responded by telling him to stop “talking nonsense”. Watson also reportedly criticised Corbyn for removing Ashworth from the NEC. 

Shadow home secretary: Diane Abbott

Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally in Parliament and a veteran of three decades of internecine conflict within the party, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington was the first black woman to be elected to Parliament ever in 1987 and is the first black person to hold or shadow a great office of state in British history. 

Prior to Corbyn’s elevation to the leadership, she carved out a niche as a regular presence on the airwaves, particularly on the BBC political programme This Week. 

Shadow foreign secretary: Emily Thornberry

An MP since 2005, this is Thornberry’s fourth role on Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench. She also served in Ed Miliband’s top team as shadow attorney general but was forced to resign after sending a supposedly snobbish tweet during the 2015 general election campaign (defenders point out she was raised by a single mum on benefits). A Corbyn loyalist who stuck by him during the recent “coup”, she was rewarded with a top job. Despite her promotion, Thornberry has not lost her talent for gaffes. During a recent Sky News interview, she forgot the name of the French Foreign Minister and then attempted to divert attention by accusing the presenter, Dermot Murnaghan, of sexism.

Shadow Brexit secretary: Keir Starmer

A former director of public prosecutions, Starmer became the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015. Previously a shadow minister on the home affairs team, he quit in the wake of the Brexit vote. An influential moderate who is tipped as a future leader, his return to the frontbench was seen as a signal that Corbyn’s rhetoric on unity was translating into action. But Starmer already appears to be at odds with the leader over immigration policy, saying that the Labour party must be open to supporting the end of current EU freedom of movement rules. Corbyn has previously stated that he doesn’t see immigration as a cause for concern.

Shadow health secretary: Jon Ashworth

The MP for Leicester South was an ally of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. He backed Yvette Cooper in the 2015 leadership election, but managed to keep a place in the shadow cabinet as minister without portfolio, and stayed in during the turbulent summer months. 

Ashworth received a promotion in return for his loyalty, but also was forced to give up his all-important seat on the National Executive Committee.

Shadow education secretary: Angela Rayner

Rayner was only elected as the MP for Ashton-under-Lyme in 2015, but she has already made a name for herself as a charismatic speaker who has personal experience of the gritty side of life. Rayner was raised by a mother who could not read or write, was pregnant by 16 and left school with no qualifications. She came to politics through her work as a union rep. Although a loyal ally of Corbyn who juggled two shadow cabinet roles during the summer chaos, Rayner has potential as a unifying figure due to her praise for New Labour policies like Sure Start.

Shadow attorney general: Shami Chakrabarti

The appointment of the former director of the civil rights group Liberty to Labour’s frontbench has sparked controversy. A party member for a mere five months, Chakrabarti was awarded a peerage in August following her inquiry into alleged anti-Semitism in Labour. But some Corbyn critics have branded the inquiry she headed a “whitewash”, and she has recently found herself fending off allegations of hypocrisy due to her admission that her son attends a private school.

Shadow work and pensions secretary: Debbie Abrahams

The MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth since a by-election in January 2011, Abrahams took over the work and pensions brief from Owen Smith when he resigned to mount his leadership challenge. In her speech to Labour party conference she outlined her vision of a “socialist pension policy” and pledged to scrap the unpopular bedroom tax.

Shadow business secretary: Clive Lewis

Lewis has rapidly emerged as “first among the equals” among the younger generation of Corbynite MPs, and is regularly tipped as a possible successor to Jeremy Corbyn. A former soldier as well as a BBC producer, the MP for Norwich South’s biography is far from that of the typical politician and would, allies believe, inoculate him on charges that he is “soft” on security issues.
He broke with his leader over defence policy, triggering his move to the Beis brief. 

Opposition chief whip: Nick Brown

The MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East is back in charge of Labour party discipline, after his two stints as Chief Whip under Tony Blair (1997-98) and Gordon Brown (2008-10) in government. Ed Miliband stopped him continuing in the role in 2010, in order to have “a fresh start” and a “new generation” at the helm, which makes Corbyn’s appointment of the Brownite fixer a rather telling move. As Stephen writes, putting Brown (who supported Yvette Cooper for the leadership last year) in this position might comfort anti-Corbyn MPs fearing deselection, while employing a politician who specialises in seeing off coups is a big boost for Corbyn’s leadership. However, his surprise re-appointment – which meant the sacking of Rosie Winterton, who was his successor back in 2010 – has caused anger among some MPs supportive of Winterton, and Labour whips Holly Lynch and Conor McGinn have resigned.

Shadow justice secretary: Richard Burgon

One of the most loyal MPs to Corbyn, Richard Burgon has been on the frontbench since the Labour leader was elected last year. The MP for Leeds East started out as shadow city minister, a job that led him to being caught out by Channel 4 News for not knowing the UK deficit figure. Following Labour’s post-Brexit reshuffle, he replaced Charlie Falconer (the Blairite who had hitherto been committed to making it work under Corbyn) in the justice brief. Burgon continues in this position. Before being elected in 2015, the Cambridge-educated Burgon had been working as a trade union lawyer.

Shadow environment secretary: Rachael Maskell

Elected in 2015, Unite-backed MP and former NHS care worker and physiotherapist Rachael Maskell was first appointed to Corbyn’s frontbench last September, to the position of shadow minister for armed forces personnel and veterans. It was a tough first gig, in light of the Labour leader’s divisive decision at the time not to sing the National Anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service. Following the post-Brexit exodus from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, the MP for York Central was promoted to shadow Defra secretary, and is staying in the position. Though Maskell has remained loyal to Corbyn, she nominated Andy Burnham for the leadership last year.

Shadow leader of the House: Valerie Vaz

Valerie Vaz has been an MP since 2010, but her new role shadowing the Leader of the House of Commons is her first frontbench foray. Hitherto dedicated to a career on the committee corridor, serving in the health select committee and environment select committee among others, the MP for Walsall South was appointed to Corbyn’s team this October. A solicitor specialising in local government matters, Vaz came into politics via working as a councillor in west London, and getting a job as a lawyer for the civil service. She nominated Andy Burnham for the Labour leadership last year, and has since kept largely out of internal Labour warfare – unlike her brother and fellow MP, Keith. She was categorised as “Core group plus” in the leaked list of “hostile” MPs drawn up by Corbyn’s office earlier this year.

Shadow Scotland and Northern Ireland secretary: Dave Anderson

Anderson – who was elected MP for Blaydon in 2005 – has never had a shadow cabinet role before. Now he has two! Corbyn appointed him shadow Northern Ireland secretary in June, following the slew of resignations from his shadow cabinet, and gave him the Scotland brief shortly after. (Labour’s only MP representing a Scottish constituency, Ian Murray, told Julia his last conversation with Corbyn was when he resigned in June). Anderson has experience of Northern Ireland policy-making, having served on the select committee since becoming an MP. He was an opposition whip in Ed Miliband’s first year as leader, and under Corbyn too since the beginning of this year, and is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership. He is on the left of the party – writing to Miliband in January last year (alongside fellow left-wingers including Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) calling for a change of direction towards rail nationalisation, empowering unions, and opposing austerity.

Shadow Wales secretary: Jo Stevens

Jo Stevens, who won Cardiff Central from the Lib Dems in 2015, was first appointed to Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench in January, as his shadow solicitor general (she is a former lawyer) in the shadow justice team. She was promoted to shadow secretary of state for Wales in the most recent reshuffle, taking over from Paul Flynn, who had been experiencing his first outing as a frontbencher at the age of 81. She nominated Andy Burnham for the leadership election, and backed Owen Smith’s subsequent leadership bid, saying it had become “painfully obvious” that Labour wasn’t fulfilling the role of opposition. But she remained on the frontbench, dismissed the vote of no-confidence in Corbyn as “self-indulgent”, and said it was “absolutely right” that he should automatically be put on the leadership ballot paper when challenged.

Shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs: Cat Smith

Cat Smith is a former parliamentary aide to Jeremy Corbyn, and a key ally. After being elected as the MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood in 2015, she nominated and voted for Corbyn. She became a member of the women and equalities select committee in September last year – a brief stint, leaving shortly after Corbyn appointed her shadow women and equalities minister. She was shuffled over in June this year to shadow voter engagement and youth affairs, a position she is staying in, in spite of exciting journalists by fleetingly removing the job title from her Twitter bio during the reshuffle.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury: Rebecca Long-Bailey

Part of the 2015 general election intake of MPs, Long-Bailey represents the safe Labour seat of Salford and Eccles in the northwest. The daughter of a local docker, she says growing up watching her parents struggle with debt and the threat of redundancy inspired her to stand up for workers’ rights. A key Corbyn ally, she nominated him for the leadership in 2015 and was then used by the leader to replace Hilary Benn on the NEC.

Shadow communities and local government secretary: Teresa Pearce

This is Pearce’s second shadow cabinet role. A Corbyn loyalist, she is standing in for Grahame Morris MP, who is on leave. She describes herself in her Twitter bio as being “angry about a lot, tired most of the time”. She had her first child at 18 and has said that the experience helped her understand how it feels to be “written off” by society.

Shadow housing secretary: John Healey

Healey is a returner to the shadow cabinet, having resigned from his post citing a lack of strong leadership in the wake of the Brexit vote. He is a frontbench veteran who has served under four different Labour leaders, and has a long history of campaigning for better social housing. Despite supporting Owen Smith’s leadership bid, he has returned to the fold advocating unity.

Shadow international trade secretary: Barry Gardiner

Unlike many of his colleagues, Gardiner has experience of serving in government, having been first elected in 1997 during the New Labour heyday (he served as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland office, Trade and Industry, and Defra). A committed environmentalist, he is an advocate of tougher energy policy and supports a ban on fracking. He defended Corbyn in the dark days after Brexit, saying he was shocked that the rest of the top team “went AWOL” and left the Tories with no opposition. Since the Corbyn’s re-election he has called on warring MPs to either come together or leave the party.

Shadow minister for women and equalities: Sarah Champion

One of the many MPs who resigned in June, Champion was the only one who soon after asked for her job back – officially unresigning. She was welcomed back by Corbyn, and his campaign group Momentum who tweeted “#WelcomeBackSarah”, and has now been promoted from her previous role as shadow minister for preventing abuse. The MP for Rotherham, she has campaigned passionately on behalf of the victims of the sexual abuse which occurred in her constituency between between 1997 and 2013.

Shadow lord president of the council: Jon Trickett

A Corbyn loyalist, the MP for Hemsworth served as shadow secretary for business, innovation and skills after Angela Eagle resigned. In the reshuffle, he made way for Clive Lewis but has the compensation of extra titles – he is not only shadow lord president, but national elections and campaigns co-ordinator. 

Shadow leader of the House of Lords: Angela Smith

Baroness Smith of Basildon said in July that she was not convinced Corbyn could win a general election. In a damning interview with The Guardian, she described his performances as unimpressive and said that he lacked leadership qualities. Smith was elected to her position, and never officially resigned from the shadow cabinet – nor can Corbyn sack her.

House of Lords opposition chief whip: Lord Bassam of Brighton

A peer since 1997, Steve Bassam is another Corbyn critic who keeps his seat by virtue of election. A former squatter, Bassam entered politics through local campaigns in Brighton. After shadow cabinet MPs began to resign, Bassam stopped attending meetings of the shadow cabinet.

Shadow minister for the cabinet: Ian Lavery

A former miner, Lavery went on strike during the industrial disputes of the 1980s and became an active member of the Labour party. He built a career as a union activist and then stood for Parliament in 2010. The MP for Wansbeck became the shadow minister for trade unions and civil society in Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet. 

A longterm critic of austerity, Lavery was named as “core group least hostile” in a leaked document outlining Corbyn’s friends and enemies. 

Shadow minister for diverse communities: Dawn Butler

A former union worker, Butler was initially the MP for Brent South, but her constituency was abolished in 2010. Thanks to the Lib Dem collapse in 2015, though, Butler was able to get back in via Brent Central. She voted for Corbyn in the summer’s no confidence vote, and said she was shocked by the conduct of the party in the aftermath of Brexit.

Shadow international development secretary: Kate Osamor

For Osamor, Labour politics is in her blood. She is the daughter of Martha Osamor, a vice chair of the Labour party’s black sections, which were instrumental in getting Diane Abbott, among others, elected to Parliament in 1987. 

The MP for Edmonton is implacably loyal to Jeremy Corbyn and represents the shadow cabinet on the NEC.

Shadow transport secretary: Andy McDonald

McDonald is one of the biggest tendency in the Corbyn frontbench: MPs elected under Ed Miliband, whether at the 2015 election, or, in the case of McDonald, in a 2012 by-election.
The MP for Middlesborough stepped up first to replace Jonathan Reynolds as rail minister and again to replace Lillian Greenwood at transport. 

Shadow minister without portfolio (attends shadow cabinet): Andrew Gwynne

Gwynne, a longtime ally of Andy Burnham, might have expected to serve on the NEC had Burnham’s leadership bid not faltered. He is well-regarded in the North-West and organised the party’s defence of Oldham West and Royton.

Shadow minister for mental health and social care (attends shadow cabinet): Barbara Keeley

Keeley returns to the frontbench after a six year absence. She served as deputy leader of the house under Gordon Brown and now attends shadow cabinet as shadow minister for mental health and social care.

Shadow defence secretary: Nia Griffith

Nia Griffith is one of those who quit the shadow cabinet, only to return following Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election. The MP for Llanelli was rewarded with a promotion from Secretary of State for Wales to the defence brief, on which she is at one with the leader on the need to scrap the Trident submarine programme.

Content from our partners
The power of place in tackling climate change
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges
"Heat or eat": how to help millions in fuel poverty – with British Gas Energy Trust