Labour MPs will be picking through Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet appointments with a fine-tooth comb. What may well please the Corbynsceptics among them more than anything else are the new leader’s appointments to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
Along with the two seats occupied by Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner, there are three positions reserved on the NEC for shadow cabinet members. Without control over the party’s ruling body, many MPs believe Starmer will struggle to extricate the Labour party from its recent failures over anti-Semitism and avoid the controversy over candidate selections that became commonplace in advance of the general election.
During the leadership campaign Starmer made his objectives clear when he announced a series of structural changes to the NEC, and Corbynsceptics will not be left disappointed by yesterday’s appointments, which confirm his early signals of intent. Close Starmer allies Jim McMahon, Jo Stevens and Jonathan Reynolds have been chosen to replace Corbyn loyalists Jon Trickett, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Diane Abbott on the NEC.
McMahon, who represented Starmer at the local government hustings during the leadership contest, previously sat on the ruling body on behalf of Labour councillors and has been appointed to the shadow transport brief. Similarly, a fresh-faced Reynolds represented young Labour members on the NEC 15 years ago and is now shadowing Thérèse Coffey at the Department for Work and Pensions. Both Reynolds and McMahon were enthusiastic supporters of Starmer during the leadership contest, as was Jo Stevens who was tipped by some to be offered an even higher position than the shadow culture brief she was eventually given.
Following a clean sweep for moderates in the recent NEC elections – with Johanna Baxter, Gurinder Singh Josan and Carol Sewell all elected on Saturday (4 April) – it means that, within days of becoming leader, Starmer has made a decisive step towards securing control of the party’s potentially troublesome structures. It is worth remembering that there are 39 voting NEC members and each one will each have his or her own priorities, but there is no doubt that Starmer is very close to establishing the stable majority he needs to gain firm control of the party.