Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
10 May 2021updated 11 May 2021 10:13am

Keir Starmer’s first shadow cabinet reshuffle is a bigger gamble than many realise

Like Ed Miliband, Starmer has changed his shadow chancellor after a year. The move may have the same ending.

By Stephen Bush

Keir Starmer has completed his first reshuffle, and the biggest move is riskier than many suppose. The headline change is the demotion of Anneliese Dodds, who moves to party chair overseeing the policy review, with Rachel Reeves replacing her as shadow chancellor. In the other major change, Angela Rayner moves from party chair to shadow Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office.

The demotion of Dodds has been long-trailed, and is being hailed as a major step forward by most commentators. Dodds’ supposed crime is a failure to “cut through”, which was also true of George Osborne in 2010, Gordon Brown in 1997, and John McDonnell in 2017, the three most recent elections in which the opposition party has gained seats in any significant way. The only shadow chancellors to have “cut through” in recent times are Ed Balls and Michael Portillo, neither of whom were popular at the time of their incumbency. More importantly, Balls was not politically at one with his leader, Ed Miliband. Although the Eds’ working relationship was good, that they were not aligned politically was part of the confusion that fatally undermined the Miliband project.

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]

At first glance, the promotion of Reeves appears a similarly risky decision: like Miliband in 2011, Starmer has appointed arguably the most qualified economist in the Parliamentary Labour Party to fulfil the role. (The only other candidates with a greater claim to that are Ed Miliband and Stephen Timms, who for various reasons could not be appointed to that role without creating a political headache for Starmer, and Yvette Cooper, whose appointment would mean forgoing a valuable political asset as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.) Unlike Miliband in 2011, he does not have the argument that he has done it under duress.

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

It may work out better this time. Although Starmer’s close allies insist that he is firmly from the middle of the Labour Party, and although he and Reeves disagreed on, among other things, whether it was appropriate to serve in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, and who the best candidate for the 2020 leadership was, it is not clear that Starmer actually has a particularly developed sense of economic policy or strategy. One reason why the Miliband-Balls relationship did not work is that Miliband had a highly developed sense of the economic policy and strategy he wanted. It may be that the experiment works better the second time around. Or it may have a familiar ending.