Keir Starmer has completed his first front bench, restoring Liz Kendall and handing first-time jobs to prominent Jeremy Corbyn critics Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips.
Starmer’s shadow cabinet bore his imprint heavily. Despite being a diverse team in terms of gender, race and each individual’s role in Labour’s internal battles over Brexit, they are, by and large, competent operators from the middle of the party.
His junior shadow frontbenchers are a much more eclectic bunch, but they tend to Starmer’s right. Members of the Labour left, like Dan Carden and Rachael Maskell, have been handed roles, but they are outnumbered three-to-one by MPs from the party’s right and centre.
Astute party management or a sign of things to come? Labour’s left-wingers will hope it is the former, and that Starmer has brought in MPs from the party’s right to roles where they are already aligned. Starmer has done a good job of matching round pegs to round holes: Kendall, who ran for the Labour leadership in 2015, has been handed the social care portfolio, which she knows intimately. Philips, a domestic violence campaigner who has worked closely with the Home Office team on the Domestic Violence Bill, is a good fit to shadow on the violence against women and girls.
Streeting has served on the treasury select committee, impressing campaigners against HMRC’s loan charge with his performances. He and Carden will form an unlikely trio along with Pat McFadden, one of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s small number of genuine Blairites, in the shadow treasury under Anneliese Dodds and Bridget Phillipson. But a superficially diverse shadow treasury team is united by the fact they have all argued for a more generous welfare net and a new argument about how to combat poverty. Streeting has said that the party’s right lost its “nerve” and “moral compass” in abstaining on the Welfare Bill in 2015, while Phillipson has written about the need for expansive anti-poverty efforts in the New Statesman.
But the left will fear that Starmer is not engaged in astute party management but clever future planning. Starmer is unlikely to do as Corbyn did, who after 2016 never again conducted a reshuffle other than when forced to by resignation. Junior frontbenchers are important both for holding the government to account and because they make up the talent pool for later reshuffles.
While there are plenty of people who fit the Starmer mould of competence and being in the party’s centre – like Matthew Pennycook, Catherine West, or Kate Green – when he seeks to refresh his shadow cabinet, as he surely will in time, his talent pipeline is well stocked with MPs from the right. Nervous Corbynites will fear that is a sign of things to come – and the true final destination of the Starmer project.