Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
7 May 2021updated 22 Jul 2021 12:49pm

Keir Starmer is promising “change“ in the coming days. What will that look like?

Shadow cabinet members are expecting a reshuffle, but it's not clear whether the Labour leader will deliver the change many in the party really want. 

By Ailbhe Rea

What is Keir Starmer going to do now? The Labour leader has taken personal responsibility for “bitterly disappointing” election results in the Hartlepool by-election and in local council elections across England, promising to do “whatever is necessary to fix things”. “I will set out what change is needed over the next few days,” he said in a short interview to camera. 

So what is the Labour leader’s plan, amid furious calls for a change of strategy from both his left and his right? There are a few things. Starmer pointedly declined to rule out a shadow cabinet reshuffle in his interview, and shadow cabinet members are now expecting one imminently. The longstanding speculation around the future of Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, has picked up again, as well as that around other members of the top team, and there are jitters on the Labour front benches tonight.

But Starmer will know that a shadow cabinet reshuffle is not the big change his critics, or indeed his fans, really want. Yes, there are plenty of Labour MPs and shadow cabinet ministers who will tell you privately that they don’t think this or that shadow cabinet member is pulling their weight. But no one thinks that the shadow cabinet membership is the main cause of Labour’s electoral woes. The shadow cabinet ultimately takes direction from Keir Starmer: a point made by figures on the right and left of the leader, and even by those who think a reshuffle would help a little bit.

The main thing that people in the party are hoping for is a change of the team of advisers around the Labour leader: from Ben Nunn, Starmer’s communications chief, to Morgan McSweeney, his chief of staff, to Jenny Chapman, the close aide and former Labour MP who is understood to have chosen Labour’s failed candidate in Hartlepool.  “I feel really sorry for him today,” one Labour source says, emphasising their loyalty to him as leader. “I am just worried about the advice he’s getting.”

But the main thing, on which the Labour leader was repeatedly questioned today, was on his vision for the party. That is the thing even the most loyal shadow cabinet members feel is lacking. You only had to watch Bridget Phillipson, a loyal member of the shadow cabinet and an early backer of Starmer’s leadership campaign, on the BBC earlier to see the problem: she was asked if she is personally confident that she knows what Starmer’s strategy is, and she skillfully dodged the question, suggesting that however much she would like to answer in the affirmative, she is unable to.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • 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
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

Starmer is known to guard professional loyalties, from Nunn, his communications aide since his time as shadow Brexit secretary, to Chapman, a former colleague of his who lost her seat in 2019. The Labour leader has promised to unveil “change” in the coming days. But figures inside Labour are still waiting to discover how sweeping those changes will be, or if they are the ones they want.

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes