Since Anneliese Dodds became shadow chancellor in April 2020 you could say she has been trailed by a “shadow” shadow chancellor: Rachel Reeves. Before Keir Starmer announced his shadow cabinet a year ago, it was widely briefed that both Reeves and Dodds were in contention for the job. The latter, who entered parliament in 2017 and was little known outside of Westminster, was a widely liked and respected figure within the parliamentary party and capable of doing the job (as a public policy academic and an Oxford PPEist, who served on John McDonnell’s shadow Treasury team). Crucially, like Starmer, she was also from Labour’s “soft left”.
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Reeves, meanwhile, was similarly well-suited to the role as a former Bank of England economist (and, yes, an Oxford PPEist) and as a prominent member of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. She was, however, notably to the right of Labour’s new leader.
It was, of course, Dodds who was appointed, to her apparently genuine surprise, while Reeves became shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a bitty role shadowing Michael Gove on Brexit and other Cabinet Office responsibilities. Reeves has been viewed as a potential shadow chancellor ever since.
The Leeds West MP has carved out a role for herself well beyond her initial brief. As we discussed in our interview in February, she took on Brexit, but also developed a focus on outsourcing and nepotistic government contracts, building on her experience of leading the Carillion inquiry as Business Select Committee chair. Reeves also led on what she describes as “future-focused” work on Labour’s strategy for upcoming elections. She is known to have Starmer’s ear, shares his outlook on the party’s path back to power, and is generally agreed to have been an effective, if not the most effective, shadow cabinet minister.
It is in this context that Reeves is cited whenever there are rumblings over whether Dodds, the first female shadow chancellor, is doing well enough. The problem for the latter is that she has been dogged by suggestions that she isn’t up to the job – politically, rather than intellectually – since she started, which, as Stephen noted in a column in October, reflects the lack of opportunities for the relative newcomer to cultivate the media during lockdown.
The problem for Reeves is the opposite: performing her job well and angling for a different one look exactly the same to external observers, only differentiated by favourable briefings to newspapers. It happened again this weekend, with the Sunday Times reporting that Starmer is set to sack Dodds in a shadow cabinet reshuffle after the May elections. Reeves was named as “the favourite” to replace her, with Lisa Nandy also in the frame.
Is there any truth to this? Certainly a reshuffle of some description seems likely after May, and is expected among some shadow cabinet members – however small or large it may prove and however closely Starmer’s team are keeping their cards to their chest.
But sources close to Starmer insist that any suggestion he intends to sack Dodds is “total rubbish” and didn’t come from them, a point the Labour leader himself reiterated this morning. What is striking about the Sunday Times report is not the repeated suggestion that Dodds’ role is in danger, and that Reeves is set to replace her, but the other names tipped for promotion: Jess Phillips, Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, all figures from Labour’s right.
This apparent attempt to bounce Starmer into significant changes has not gone down well. A source close to the Labour leader warns he is “not a very bounceable person”.