For more than a decade, political power in Britain has largely been the preserve of the Conservative Party. While there are now three former Tory prime ministers on the back benches of the House of Commons, Labour lacks even one.
Yet a sea change is under way. The recent local election results confirmed what opinion polls already show: Labour is expected to return to government for the first time since 2010. Even as the Tories remain in power, they are being forced to embrace interventionist policies such as higher public spending and higher taxation. But who are the people who enjoy the greatest influence within Labour and across the wider British left?
In this issue, we publish our inaugural Left Power List – a guide to the 50 most influential people in progressive politics. The individuals below were selected and ranked by a panel of New Statesman staff and contributors and were not told in advance of the project.
We define power as the ability to change policy or to change minds: to shape political opinion and debate. To qualify, individuals must have some affiliation with the left, whether the social democratic or socialist tradition, or have challenged the economic status quo; social liberalism alone is not sufficient.
Individual rankings can only reveal so much, and so what are the broad trends that emerge from our list? In a reflection of Labour’s current strength, the top three places are occupied by members of the party and 21 of those on the list are serving Labour politicians or aides. After the largest wave of strike action since 1989, we also include four trade union general secretaries in the top 20. Finally, our list testifies to the growing influence of broadcast and social media over traditional newspaper columns.
Please do let us know who you would have included on the list and where – they will get a chance to appear next year. By George Eaton
1 Rachel Reeves
There was a time when Reeves’ moment appeared to have passed. After Keir Starmer became Labour leader in 2020, Reeves, 44, was not appointed to the job with which she had been linked since entering parliament a decade before: shadow chancellor. The former Bank of England economist instead assumed the more marginal roles of shadow Cabinet Office minister and shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Yet Reeves turned an apparent setback into an opportunity. In her new post shadowing Michael Gove, she excoriated the government for its wasteful and cronyistic Covid-19 contracts and called for an end to the cult of outsourcing. Reeves also became one of Starmer’s most trusted political confidants. When the Labour leader reshuffled his shadow cabinet in May 2021, the Leeds West MP was duly rewarded with the post of shadow chancellor (succeeding Anneliese Dodds).
Though Starmer is senior in rank, we believe Reeves is the most influential person on the British left today. The economy and the living standards crisis are the defining political issues of our time. On these questions, Starmer, who doesn’t have an economic background, defers to Reeves. Her greater political experience (she was elected five years earlier than Starmer and has deep trade union links) gives her further stature.
Our panel also cited Reeves’ pivotal role in two of the party’s defining missions: winning the confidence of business and achieving fiscal credibility. The shadow chancellor has met 400 chairmen and chief executives – many of them disillusioned with the Conservatives – and has the final say on which spending proposals become Labour policy.
Reeves’ relentless emphasis on fiscal discipline has led some MPs to accuse her of a lack of radicalism. Her pledge, however, to spend £28bn a year on green investment (a larger annual figure than that promised by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell) shows a vision beyond hair-shirt economics.
The former British girls’ chess champion has the political hunger of someone with a point to prove. In a joint New Statesman interview with her sister Ellie, a fellow Labour MP and shadow justice minister, Reeves said: “What I feel very strongly is that because we were constantly underestimated, we need to prove that two girls from state school in south London are just as good as any Eton or Winchester boy.” As Labour prepares for government, no one today should underestimate the influence of Rachel Reeves.
2 Keir Starmer
Leader of the Opposition
Two years ago, Keir Starmer’s leadership appeared imperilled. Labour had lost the Hartlepool by-election, and had been comfortably defeated by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the local elections. Both left and right of the party dismissed Starmer as a political dud. Yet the Labour leader, 60, is resilient and is now the overwhelming favourite to be the next prime minister.
By ruthlessly imposing new candidate selection rules and jettisoning Corbyn-era policy commitments, Starmer has remade the party in his own moderate, pragmatic image. While uncertainty persists over what he would use power for, the Labour leader can be hopeful of reaching No 10.
3 Morgan McSweeney
Labour campaign director
All political movements require behind-the-scenes operators who drive the project forward. McSweeney, 45, who as Labour’s campaign director will lead the party’s bid to win the next general election, has emerged as Keir Starmer’s most trusted aide.
Described by allies as “the organiser’s organiser”, McSweeney ran Starmer’s ruthlessly effective leadership campaign in 2020 and subsequently served as his chief of staff in parliament. The unshowy, fast-talking Irishman assumed his current role in September 2021 and all policy and communications staff report to him.
McSweeney is a 20-year veteran of campaigns having first worked with Peter Mandelson in 2001, and he inspires strong loyalty in his team, based at Labour’s new headquarters in Southwark, south London. At Lambeth Council, under Steve Reed (now Starmer’s shadow justice secretary), McSweeney led a revolt against the far-left factions and helped Labour gain the council from a Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2006. More recently, McSweeney was instrumental in imposing the party’s contentious new MP selection process. By centralising the longlisting of candidates, Labour has locked out left-wingers and almost anyone connected to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
McSweeney’s power base comes from years working in the Labour office of the Local Government Association and through Labour Together, the increasingly influential group he co-founded in 2017 with the intention of reclaiming the party from the radical left. While Labourites question McSweeney’s aggressive campaign tactics, as evidenced by the internal rows over the party’s Rishi Sunak attack ads, his influence remains strong and is unlikely to change after Labour’s local election victories.
4 Martin Lewis
Consumer campaigner and journalist
The nation’s unofficial financial adviser has spent more than two decades telling the public how to save money and avoid rip-offs, but the sharp downturn in living standards caused by inflation and wage stagnation gave his campaigning a new urgency. While Lewis, 51, does not declare a party allegiance, he is a frequent critic of the Tory government: last summer he warned that higher energy bills would lead to “civil unrest” (ministers later announced the Energy Price Guarantee) and he condemned the Truss administration after its calamitous mini-Budget.
Around the same time, a Channel 4 poll suggested Lewis was the country’s top choice for prime minister, and in December last year Jeremy Hunt invited him to No 11 to consult on mortgage affordability. In the argument over who can fix Britain’s economy, it may be Lewis who casts the deciding vote.
5 Gary Lineker
TV presenter, pundit and podcast mogul
The Match of the Day host, 62, was once best known as a former England striker and amiable broadcaster who would occasionally run into trouble for posting politically charged tweets to his millions of followers. Now, to many of his supporters, he has become a free-speech martyr and a rare voice supporting the cause of asylum seekers and refugees.
In March 2023, the BBC suspended Lineker from presenting Match of the Day (following pressure from the right-wing press) only to reinstate him days later after a de facto strike by Lineker’s colleagues and other BBC staff halted live sports coverage. The debacle hastened the departure of Richard Sharp as BBC chairman and forced Rishi Sunak to defend the government’s unpopular asylum policy.
Meanwhile, the presenter has quietly established himself as a mini-media mogul – he co-owns Goalhanger Podcasts, which produces The Rest is Politics, a regular chart-topper hosted by Alastair Campbell (No 40) and Rory Stewart.
6 Wes Streeting
Shadow health secretary
Since his appointment as shadow health secretary in November 2021, Streeting, 40, has become one of the most prominent and confident members of Keir Starmer’s front bench. The unashamed Blairite has clashed with the British Medical Association and other health unions by declaring that reform will have to do “more of the heavy lifting” than spending under a future Labour government. He threatened earlier this year to “tear up the contract” with GPs and make them salaried NHS staff (though he has since adopted a more conciliatory tone).
Streeting will soon publish a memoir of his working-class East End upbringing, and has had kidney cancer. He has future leadership ambitions – and this has reportedly caused tensions with Starmer’s office. But he is widely regarded as a strong media performer and as such will be one of the leading faces of the general election campaign.
7 Sue Gray
Partygate investigator and incoming Labour chief of staff
Until December 2021, Gray was often described by journalists as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of”. That changed when the veteran Whitehall civil servant was tasked with leading an inquiry into partygate: the series of illegal lockdown gatherings held in Downing Street under Boris Johnson. Gray’s eventual report, which charted the dysfunctional culture in No 10 in grim detail, hastened Johnson’s defenestration as prime minister in 2022.
Gray, the daughter of Irish immigrants, took a career break from the civil service in the 1980s to run a pub in Newry, a border town in Northern Ireland, during the Troubles.
Earlier this year, she acquired even greater prominence when Keir Starmer appointed her as his new chief of staff. This was condemned by commentators on both left and right for compromising civil service impartiality; it confirmed Gray’s status as a Conservative bête noire.
Starmer first met Gray to discuss the role in October 2022 and she reportedly held “multiple conversations” with his team. Her appointment is now subject to approval by a government watchdog and is expected to be delayed for at least six months.
8 Angela Rayner
Deputy Labour leader
Few people have prevailed after standing up to Keir Starmer. Rayner is one of them. In the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election in 2021, the opposition leader tried to demote his deputy. Rayner was removed from her roles as party chair and national campaign coordinator but her orchestrated revolt forced Starmer to placate her with the posts of shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and secretary of state for the future of work.
In the latter role, the 43-year-old is responsible for Labour’s quietly radical workplace agenda: full employment rights for all workers from day one, a ban on zero-hours contracts; and a guaranteed entitlement to flexible working. The deputy leadership – an elected position – gives Rayner a power base safe from the grip of Starmer’s tightly run operation and, if she wishes, a platform to fight the next leadership contest.
9 Christina McAnea
Unison general secretary
After a decade of austerity, the recent series of public sector strikes has not provoked the backlash that some expected. As general secretary of Unison, the UK’s largest trade union (with more than 1.3 million members), McAnea has won plaudits for using her leadership to extract an improved pay deal from the government for NHS workers.
The Scotswoman’s influence on the left, however, extends further. Unison is the closest of all the unions to Keir Starmer’s operation and acts as a lynchpin in maintaining his control over candidate selections, party policy and internal reforms. Should Labour enter government, McAnea and her union – one of the party’s biggest donors – will no doubt demand repayment.
10 Torsten Bell
Resolution Foundation chief executive
As the UK has endured its worst pay squeeze since records began, Bell, 40, has become a ubiquitous media presence. The Resolution Foundation, where he has been chief executive since 2015, is devoted to “improving living standards for those on low-to-middle incomes” and now rivals the Institute for Fiscal Studies in its capacity to shape political debate. Bell’s think tank heavily influenced the two biggest government interventions in recent times: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Energy Price Guarantee.
The Anglo-Swede served as Labour’s director of policy during Ed Miliband’s leadership and has long been linked with an eventual move to parliament. His identical twin, Olaf, is EU director at the Foreign Office.
11 Sharon Graham
Unite general secretary
Ambulances stopped, buses left stationary, nurses on the picket line, airport security closed. As general secretary of Unite, Graham has led some of the most disruptive industrial action over the past year. Graham, 54, was elected leader of the UK’s second-largest union (with 1.2 million members) in 2021 with a vow to be more assertive in industrial disputes.
She has eschewed the politicking of her predecessor, Len McCluskey, and has declared that Unite “can’t keep hoping” for a Labour government to solve its “members’ problems”. The union gave £3m to Labour in advance of the 2019 general election but, in 2021, Graham cut its donations to the party by 10 per cent.
As a new era of trade union militancy continues, whether Graham uses this fact to further distance Unite from Labour could shape the future of the union movement.
12 Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester mayor
In the early period of Keir Starmer’s leadership, as Labour trailed far behind the Conservatives, Burnham, 53, was routinely referred to as the party’s “king across the water”. The Greater Manchester mayor’s strident opposition to the government’s Covid-19 funding proposals contrasted with Starmer’s more consensual approach. Labour’s recovery in the polls has ended Burnham’s leadership hopes but the party’s stated commitment to “levelling up” and radical devolution means he remains a crucial voice.
Burnham was the key dissenter at Labour’s annual conference last year, demanding the introduction of proportional representation and even calling for an end to the whipping system. Should a future Labour government fail to fulfil Starmer’s promise to narrow regional inequality, expect Burnham’s voice to be among the loudest raised in protest.
13 Humza Yousaf
Scottish First Minister
For much of her long tenure as Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon would have made the top five of this list. The SNP was hegemonic north of the border and Scottish independence was an insurgent cause. But her successor, Yousaf, 38, is a diminished figure. A series of SNP scandals have led to a collapse in his party’s poll ratings and have destroyed the campaign for a second independence referendum.
Nevertheless, as head of the Scottish government, with control of a £59.7bn budget, and as leader of the UK’s third largest party, Yousaf continues to wield significant formal power.
14 JK Rowling
Campaigner and author
The Harry Potter author has long been politically active: she donated £1m to the Labour Party in 2008, citing its reduction of child poverty since 1997. Rowling went on to oppose Scottish independence (donating £1m to the Better Together campaign) and spoke out against Brexit.
Rowling’s high placing on our list reflects her influence over one of the most charged issues of our time: trans rights. Last year Rowling, 57, photographed herself wearing a T-shirt branding Nicola Sturgeon a “destroyer of women’s rights”. Such interventions helped rally opposition to the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill and further inflamed divisions within the SNP.
When Keir Starmer stated last year that “trans women are women”, the author said that Labour “can no longer be counted on to defend women’s rights”. Starmer has since ruled out a Scottish-style gender bill at Westminster
15 Pat Cullen
RCN general secretary
The largest nurses’ strike in history has made Cullen, 58, one of the country’s most prominent trade union leaders. Having started her career as a community nurse in West Belfast during the Troubles, the Northern Irishwoman became general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in 2021. She has faced increasing internal dissent having called for union members to accept the government’s 5 per cent pay offer – a proposal that 54 per cent ultimately rejected. Her demand for the Health Secretary Steve Barclay to “put more money on the table” to prevent industrial action “right up until Christmas” will be the greatest test of her influence to date.
16 Tony Blair
Former prime minister
Does Keir Starmer live under Blair’s shadow? Many MPs look to the former prime minister, now 70, because he is the only Labour politician born in the last 100 years to have won a general election. He is known to advise Starmer and his interventions – such as his widely noticed New Statesman essay following Labour’s defeat in the 2021 Hartlepool by-election – are watched closely. That influence may wane if Starmer enters No 10. Yet for now, Blair has incomparable authority on how to win.
Outside of party politics, his eponymous institute has been a vehicle for his post-Downing Street activities, and published a series of reports during the Covid pandemic. Mass testing and vaccine passports were among the policies eventually adopted by the government. Staff at the institute are expected to serve as special advisers in a Labour administration should Starmer emulate Blair’s electoral success.
17 Sadiq Khan
Mayor of London
With the “levelling up” agenda focusing political attention northwards, and a Tory government channelling funds away from Labour London, Sadiq Khan resembles a king without a counting house. City Hall, the mayor’s seat of power, which once glistened beside Tower Bridge, has been forced to migrate eastwards to the Docklands because of unaffordably high rent.
Khan, 52, is the favourite to win a record third term as mayor of London in 2024 but he has struggled to define his administration. He will, however, soon publish his first book, Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency. His planned extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone to all of the capital’s 32 boroughs has earned him the anger of motorists and plaudits from environmentalists.
18 Deborah Mattinson
Labour director of strategy
As Keir Starmer’s director of strategy, Mattinson is Labour’s Red Wall whisperer. The co-founder of the polling company Britain Thinks, she has led the opposition’s relentless focus on winning back “hero voters”: former Labour supporters who voted for Brexit in 2016 and then Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019. She is seen as something of a seer within Starmer’s team and an advocate of a safety-first approach. Though this has frustrated some colleagues, Labour’s local election gains in strongly pro-Brexit areas such as Thanet in Kent boosted her position.
Mattinson’s return to Labour in 2021 – she advised the party in the 1980s during the birth of New Labour – also underlined the enduring influence of former Gordon Brown allies in and around Starmer. Mattinson is the most senior female staff member.
19 Mick Lynch
RMT general secretary
How do you make industrial action cool? That’s what Lynch, the RMT general secretary, who became known for humiliating ill-prepared journalists during interviews, did for a period during the train strikes last year. Articulate and confident, Lynch, 61, has become a leader in the largest series of trade union action since the late 1980s. His direct and quick-witted explanations of economic inequality have made him popular with younger voters – some of those left leaderless after Jeremy Corbyn’s defeat. Lynch’s soft power is matched by an ability, with the permission of his members, to shut down the nation’s rail network – to the irritation of commuters.
In an era of high inflation and shrinking wages, when some trade unions are disgruntled with Labour’s centrist turn under Keir Starmer, Lynch will remain central to the debate over how workers secure better pay.
20 Shabana Mahmood
Labour national campaign coordinator
At the nadir of Keir Starmer’s leadership – following the party’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election – it was Shabana Mahmood to whom the Labour high command turned. Having replaced Angela Rayner as national campaign coordinator, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood instituted daily 8am strategy calls (8.30am on Saturdays, 10am on Sundays) and became renowned for her bold, fluent, uncompromising style. The new arrival was soon able to point to results as Labour surprisingly won the Batley and Spen by-election in July 2021 and advanced in local elections.
Mahmood, 42, became one of the UK’s first female Muslim MPs during Ed Miliband’s leadership and joined his front-bench team. She refused, however, to be a part of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and instead strengthened her internal connections by serving on Labour’s National Executive Committee.
She was one of the commissioners of Labour Together’s 2019 general election report, which concluded the party had not kept up with modern Britain; it also offered a blueprint for rebuilding a winning electoral coalition. The Oxford-educated barrister bought a house next door to her Kashmiri parents in the inner-city Birmingham neighbourhood where she was born. She has urged Labour to acknowledge voters’ concerns about immigration and not to ignore the “culture wars”. “We have to be more comfortable navigating those spaces,” she told the NS in 2021
21 Ed Miliband
Shadow climate change and net zero secretary
Eight years on from his humbling defeat at the 2015 general election, Miliband has enjoyed a political renaissance. His position on our list reflects his prominence beyond Westminster and his key role as shadow secretary for climate change and net zero. Labour’s biggest spending commitment is to invest £28bn a year in green measures and it has also pledged to establish GB Energy, a publicly owned supplier.
Miliband, 53, is one of the few shadow cabinet ministers with government experience – he was energy secretary under Gordon Brown – and his influence stretches across the left. He co-hosts a popular podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, with the radio presenter Geoff Lloyd and published a book, Go Big, in 2021.
Keir Starmer has faced intermittent pressure from Labour’s right to marginalise or sack Miliband, who has moved left with age. But to date, Starmer has kept faith with him.
22 Lisa Nandy
Shadow levelling-up secretary
Boris Johnson’s pledge to “level up” the UK’s regions, coupled with his vow to “get Brexit done”, led to Labour being routed in its working-class heartlands in 2019. This loss of trust was a fate that Nandy, 43, the MP for Wigan, had long warned of. As shadow levelling-up secretary, she is tasked with winning back the Red Wall and delivering on Labour’s vow to devolve more power through the “take back control” bill. Nandy, who finished third in the 2020 Labour leadership election, enjoys broad influence as the standard bearer of the party’s “soft left”; she was dubbed the “Marcus Rashford of the Labour Party” by her opposite number, Michael Gove.
23 David Attenborough
Broadcaster and environmentalist
Born 17 days after Elizabeth II and the year before the invention of TV, there is perhaps now no living individual more prominently or positively associated with Britain than David Attenborough. Travel to far-flung nations and, alongside superstars from the Premier League, the broadcaster’s name will transcend language divides.
In this regard, Attenborough, 97, is invaluable to green diplomacy. At home, the UK’s record on conservation and climate has been decidedly mixed. But abroad, Attenborough has provided the UK with a firefly-bright signal of good intent, to which leaders across the political spectrum have attached themselves.
The nonagenarian has moved increasingly to the left as his career has progressed. In 2020, having been criticised for his emphasis on population control, Attenborough declared that “the excesses the capitalist system has brought us have got to be curbed somehow… I believe the nations of the world, ordinary people worldwide, are beginning to realise that greed does not actually lead to joy.”
His most recent BBC series, Wild Isles, was his most political yet, as he warned that “in England, every river is polluted” and that Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest has shrivelled to just 1 per cent of its former size. (The BBC was accused of not airing the sixth episode, which was released on iPlayer, for fear of a right-wing backlash – claims the BBC has denied.)
“He has always been this great oak tree under which it’s been hard for a sapling to grow,” a former head of the BBC Natural History Unit once remarked of the difficulty of finding a replacement. Few make the climate crisis as accessible and urgent a national issue as Attenborough has.
24 Stuart Ingham
Labour director of policy
Keir Starmer has said Labour’s next election manifesto will be a “slim document”. He has already abandoned pledges made during his leadership campaign to abolish university tuition fees and renationalise the privatised utilities. Which policies become part of Labour’s election programme will be a finely balanced judgement. Ingham is overseeing this process as the party’s director of policy and one of the longest-serving members of Starmer’s team, having joined his parliamentary office in 2016 as a researcher.
Ingham, who also advises the shadow cabinet and writes questions for PMQs, will be assisted by Peter Hyman, who formulated Tony Blair’s 1997 pledge card and co-founded an academy school, and Rav Athwal, the former head of growth at the Treasury.
25 Pat McFadden
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
After 13 years in opposition, Labour lacks frontbenchers with experience of government. McFadden, 58, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, is a rare exception. He attended Gordon Brown’s cabinet as deputy to the business secretary, Peter Mandelson, and served as Tony Blair’s political secretary.
The Scotsman, who was sacked from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench for “disloyalty”, remains a standard-bearer for the New Labour project. His place on our list reflects his influence over the party’s spending commitments as, together with Rachel Reeves, he seeks to enforce fiscal discipline.
26 Stephen Flynn
SNP Westminster leader
The Aberdeen South MP only entered parliament in 2019 but became the SNP’s Westminster leader at the end of the last year following the ruthless coup against Ian Blackford. Flynn heads a grouping of 45 MPs and enjoys a guaranteed slot at PMQs. The ambitious 34-year-old is already eyeing his next move – he told the New Statesman last year: “Anyone who’s elected for the SNP wants to be in Scotland’s national parliament, which is not in Westminster – it’s in Edinburgh.” But he must first work to save his party’s seats in the face of Scottish Labour’s accelerating recovery.
27 Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury
When the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, polls suggested nearly half of all Church of England members supported them, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has spent the past decade as a bold critic of the central tenets of Tory policy.
Welby, 67, an Old Etonian, condemned austerity as a policy of “crushing the weak” and called for the end of Universal Credit. In a speech to the Trades Union Congress he described the gig economy, which has thrived under Tory rule, as “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”. He has repeatedly defended refugee rights and in a recent House of Lords debate described the Sunak government’s Illegal Migration Bill as “morally unacceptable”.
The Church’s membership is in steep decline, at least in Britain, but Welby still commands both a sizeable congregation of 600,000 and a position in the House of Lords. Like his predecessor, Rowan Williams, a former New Statesman guest editor, he seems content in the role of meddlesome priest.
28 Mark Drakeford
Welsh First Minister
Drakeford is often overlooked by the Westminster-focused press pack. But the 68-year-old is one of the few Labour politicians who holds genuine power. As First Minister of Wales since 2018, he led the country through the Covid-19 pandemic and oversaw a sixth consecutive victory for his party at the 2021 Senedd election.
Drakeford sits on the left of Labour and has governed as such. He is pioneering a basic income pilot that offers £1,600 a month to 18-year-olds leaving care, and expanding the provision of free school breakfasts, as Labour aspires to do in England. Drakeford has also distanced himself from the UK government by refusing to introduce voter ID for Welsh council and Senedd elections. His actions matter both for people in Wales and as a demonstration of what Labour can do in and with power.
29 Jeremy Corbyn
Former Labour leader
Until the 2019 general election, Corbyn would have been close to the top of this list. But Labour’s worst result since 1935 left the Islington North MP derided as electorally toxic. Corbyn’s influence was further reduced when he lost the party whip after declaring that the scale of anti-Semitism in Labour was “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.
But the 73-year-old continues to have wide influence and command support. His allies have confirmed that he intends to stand as an independent in his constituency at the next election – guaranteeing media exposure. Should he win, he and his fellow Socialist Campaign Group MPs could yet wield significant influence in a hung parliament. Corbyn’s four-year tenure as Labour leader shifted the terms of political debate leftwards and gave greater prominence to a new generation of radical commentators and campaigners.
30 Katharine Viner
While most of its traditional “broadsheet” rivals have restricted access to their websites using paywalls, the Guardian – edited by Viner, 52, since 2015 – remains free to read online. As a result, and thanks to expansion in the US, the title has one of the largest readerships online in the world, and more than one million donors or app subscribers, who provide financial security. If Labour wins the next general election, the Guardian will – for the first time in 13 years – be close to the sitting government. But Viner, who recently married the Guardian columnist and broadcaster Adrian Chiles, will also have to contend with her title’s increasingly public divisions.
31 Steve Reed
Shadow justice secretary
Labour’s 1997 election landslide was built in part on its pledge to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. As shadow justice secretary, Reed, 59, is tasked with finessing this message for the 2020s with a new “punish, prevent, protect” mantra.
Reed recently came to media prominence after championing Labour’s contentious attack ads against Rishi Sunak – in contrast to the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper (number 36), who reportedly had no prior knowledge of the ads. His position in our list reflects his closeness to Starmer’s most influential aide, Morgan McSweeney (number three), and his work with Labour Together.
32 Mariana Mazzucato
Author and economist
There were howls of anguish from management consultants when Mazzucato, 54, and Rosie Collington published their book The Big Con earlier this year (others privately supported their analysis). The bestseller confirmed the Italian-American-Brit as one of the world’s most influential economists – she has been cited by Pope Francis, Bill Gates and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and holds advisory posts with the UN, the South African government and the World Health Organisation. Her 2021 book, Mission Economy, directly influenced Keir Starmer’s “national missions” and The Entrepreneurial State (2013) helped inspire a new era of interventionism across the globe.
33 David Lammy
Shadow foreign secretary
What will Britain’s place in the world be five years from now? If Labour wins the next general election, Lammy, 50, will be central to answering that question. The shadow foreign secretary has so far ruled out the UK rejoining the EU single market or customs union. But anti-Brexit campaigners will look to him for flexibility should Labour enter government.
Even if he is moved to a lesser role in a reshuffle, Lammy has a media profile unlike many others in the shadow cabinet. The Tottenham MP’s LBC radio show and Twitter following of 796,000 – as well as his books and journalism – give him a direct link to voters that could prove fruitful.
34 Roger Hallam
Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion
Back in 2007, Hallam was an organic farmer in the Welsh countryside who believed his protesting days were behind him. But after a succession of extreme weather events led to his farm’s bankruptcy – by his account – he resolved to act. Hallam, now 57, went on to co-found Extinction Rebellion and the road-blocking Insulate Britain, the two most visible direct action groups of our time.
More recently, Hallam has inspired Just Stop Oil, the movement that threw soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and disrupted the World Snooker Championship.
35 Matthew Doyle
Labour director of communications
Message discipline is vital if Labour is to move from opposition to government. As executive director of communications, Doyle is charged with ensuring this and managing Keir Starmer’s relations with the media. He previously served as Labour’s head of press and broadcasting from 1998 to 2005 and as a special adviser to both David Blunkett and Tony Blair.
Doyle, who also worked on Liz Kendall’s doomed 2015 leadership campaign, assumed his current role in 2021. He works alongside Paul Ovenden, Labour’s director of attack and rebuttal, and two other communications directors, Sophie Nazemi, one of the few survivors of the Corbyn era, and Steph Driver.
36 Yvette Cooper
Shadow home secretary
The renewed political focus on immigration and asylum has made Cooper central to Labour’s bid to win the next general election. The 54-year-old, one of the Blair/Brown “golden generation”, is one of the few members of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet to have served in government. She also won plaudits during her time as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
But recent briefings by Starmer allies suggest her role as shadow home secretary is under threat. Cooper let it be known that she was not consulted over the party’s attack ads on Rishi Sunak, and the combative shadow justice secretary Steve Reed (number 31) has been touted as a replacement. But for now, Cooper’s experience and command of her brief keeps her on our list.
37 Gordon Brown
Former prime minister
Thirteen years after losing office, Brown, 72, is more central to Labour policy than at any time since he left Downing Street. The former prime minister chaired a party commission on the UK’s future, which called for the abolition of the House of Lords, radical devolution to the nations and regions, and a ban on the majority of MPs’ second jobs. Reported disputes between Brown and Keir Starmer over the adoption of the report show there are limits to his influence. But as Labour seeks to deliver change in an era of straitened public finances, and as the party recovers in Scotland, Brown will remain a forceful presence.
38 James O’Brien
Through his LBC show (1.3 million weekly listeners) and his Twitter account (1.1 million followers), O’Brien, 51, has established himself as a liberal firebrand. A master of the sound-bite, the author of the immodestly titled How To Be Right is relentless on air, especially towards guests with whom he disagrees. O’Brien, who started his career at the Daily Express and briefly hosted a TV show, is a kind of ultra-liberal “shock jock”. He was a fierce critic of Jeremy Corbyn but has been more supportive of Keir Starmer. Should Labour take power, O’Brien will be among those demanding that Starmer reaffirm his anti-Brexit credentials.
39 Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour leader
When Anas Sarwar was elected Scottish Labour leader in February 2021, he was the tenth person to take up the ill-fated job since the Scottish Parliament was established 24 years ago. The 40-year-old began the role just weeks before Labour finished third, behind the SNP and Conservatives, for the second Holyrood election in a row.
But Scottish Labour, long derided as a moribund force, is now enjoying a sustained polling uplift as support for the SNP falls. Sarwar, who was one of 40 Labour MPs to lose their seats to the SNP at the 2015 general election, appears finally to be in the right job at the right time. He is often accompanied by Keir Starmer, who visited Scotland three times in three weeks earlier this year. (On a recent trip, Sarwar ate a deep-fried Mars Bar for the press pack – it tasted, he said, like “eating your mum’s pakora then eating chocolate straight after”. Starmer declined to do the same.)
Sarwar has long been prominent in Labour’s moderate circles. His father, Mohammad Sarwar, became a Labour MP in 1997, the first Muslim to be elected to the Commons. Thirteen years later, Sarwar junior won his father’s old seat, Glasgow Central. Should the SNP’s decline continue, Sarwar could plausibly hope to become the first Scottish Labour first minister since Jack McConnell lost to Alex Salmond in 2007. But the more immediate question is whether he can help Starmer win enough seats north of the border to ensure that Labour returns to government at Westminster.
40 Alastair Campbell
Podcaster and strategist
In recent years, Tony Blair’s often-reviled former spin doctor has reinvented himself as an anti-Brexit crusader and broadcaster. Although he still works as a political strategist and consultant, Campbell, 65, is now best known for co-hosting The Rest is Politics, one of the UK’s most popular podcasts, with the former Tory cabinet minister Rory Stewart. He is also editor-at-large of the New European, a mental health campaigner and a prolific author and tweeter (with over a million followers). As a hard-edged Labour tribalist, he will expect to be heard if it wins the election.
41 Owen Jones
Before the 2019 general election, Jones, 38, was inescapable as an alternate critic and champion of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. But his influence has waned following the Labour left’s electoral defeats and Keir Starmer’s ruthless marginalisation of the faction.
Yet Jones retains significant influence through Twitter (one million followers), his YouTube channel (229,000 subscribers), his Guardian column and his books. “This Owen Jones is very readable for a socialist,” declared a character in the HBO series Industry.
When Starmer succeeded Corbyn in 2020, Jones argued that “the left should wish him well; the quid pro quo is Starmer stands by his promises.” He has since excoriated him for abandoning numerous campaign pledges. Should Starmer falter during the general election campaign or in office, Jones will be among those loudly claiming vindication.
42 Marcus Rashford
Campaigner and England footballer
The Manchester United forward’s political salience may have peaked in the pandemic years, but his legacy endures. The one-man opposition party (polling once suggested the public saw him as a better alternative PM than Keir Starmer) reimagined the role of activist celebrity. By running an unflashy and focused campaign, he succeeded in forcing the government to extend free school meals across the holiday period during lockdown. Awarded an MBE for his endeavours, the 25-year-old’s name is used by Tory moderates warning that hard-line policies will provoke similar interventions. During the pandemic, for example, the peer Michael Forsyth called for the temporary £20 Universal Credit increase to become permanent, “otherwise they [ministers] are going to have several other famous footballers running campaigns”.
Rashford is one of a number of leading players, alongside his England teammates Tyrone Mings and Raheem Sterling, to have spoken out against poverty and racism. Harry Kane has funded kits to thank front-line workers and promote a children’s hospice and the mental health charity Mind. Jordan Henderson established a fund for Premier League players to support NHS charities. Until the end of last season, players in Premier League matches took the knee – a Black Lives Matter protest – before each game, following the murder of George Floyd in the US in 2021.
This interaction with politics has become the norm in English football, with Gary Linker (number five) assailing the government’s immigration policies and England manager Gareth Southgate championing inclusive patriotism. The women’s game has seen greater activism too: during the 2022 Tory leadership election, the Lionesses wrote to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss calling for investment in school football for girls
43 Bridget Phillipson
Shadow education secretary
The cost and quality of childcare is likely to be one of the defining issues at the next general election, something that will put Phillipson, 39, in a critical position. As shadow education secretary since 2021, she has long championed reform of the sector, something that prompted Jeremy Hunt to take pre-emptive action in this year’s Budget.
Phillipson has spent over a decade in parliament as MP for Houghton and Sunderland South but, in common with many close to Labour’s Blairite wing, was marginalised as a backbencher during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. In her current role she has led the party’s campaign to end tax breaks for private schools and clashed with education unions over the role of Ofsted in school inspections. She is widely regarded as one of Labour’s rising stars and a loyalist likely to remain in Keir Starmer’s top team should the party enter government.
44 Andy Haldane
RSA chief executive and Treasury adviser
During the Corbyn era, Haldane, 55, was spoken of as a potential Bank of England governor under a left-wing Labour administration. That did not come to pass, but the heterodox thinker’s influence continues. Having resigned as the Bank’s chief economist in 2021, Haldane is now chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts and was recently appointed to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Economic Advisory Council. His past interventions have included praising the Occupy movement, warning of a regression to a “pre-industrial” workforce and demanding a “fundamental rethink and refresh of our model of capitalism”.
45 Ash Sarkar
Novara Media contributing editor
The 31-year-old activist, self-described communist and contributing editor at Novara Media is a regular BBC Question Time panellist with more than 400,000 Twitter followers. Her sharp-witted broadcast style, interspersed with theoretical analysis, makes her perhaps the closest person Britain has to a left-wing influencer. Sarkar resigned her Labour membership in 2021, but remains one of the left’s most ubiquitous commentators.
46 Carys Roberts
IPPR executive director
As Labour assembles its manifesto, the Institute for Public Policy Research, which Roberts has led since 2020, will be one of the most crucial influences. The think tank’s research underpinned policies such as shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’ £28bn-a-year climate investment pledge and the government’s recent childcare announcement. It has also championed an energy windfall tax and higher corporation tax. Roberts, previously the think tank’s chief economist, has maintained the leftwards turn of an institution once indelibly associated with Blairism.
47 Zarah Sultana
Labour MP and Socialist Campaign Group co-chair
Sultana, 29, is that rare thing: a genuinely viral politician. The Socialist Campaign Group co-chair has 438,000 TikTok followers (the highest of any MP), as well as 273,000 on Instagram and 324,00 on Twitter. Sultana, elected in Coventry South in 2019, has captured the political imagination of an alienated generation who, like her, were politicised by the Iraq War and the austerity of the coalition government.
She is part of a group of young socialist women of colour – also including Nadia Whittome, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Apsana Begum – who have been likened to the “Squad” of congressional radicals in the US. But translating online fame into policy influence is the challenge confronting her – and the wider left – in Starmer’s Labour.
48 Amia Srinivasan
Philosopher and author
The appointment of Srinivasan as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford in 2020 was an intellectual and social landmark. She was both the first woman and person of colour and the first feminist philosopher to hold the post. “When I teach the great texts of feminist theory to my students, they have the same experience of having their minds blown as they do when they read Plato,” Srinivasan, 38, told the New Statesman in 2021. Her collection of essays, The Right to Sex, distilled the questions around consent, pornography and incarceration that feminism must grapple with today.
49 Joeli Brearley
Pregnant Then Screwed founder
After being sacked ten years ago when she told her boss she was pregnant, Joeli Brearley channelled her anger into Pregnant Then Screwed – a legal advice service she founded in 2015 for victims of parental discrimination. In recent times the 44-year-old, who has two sons, has dramatically raised the political prominence of the UK’s childcare system – the third most expensive in the developed world. The “March of the Mummies”, organised by Pregnant Then Screwed across 11 cities last October, helped force Jeremy Hunt to include 30 hours of free childcare a week for one- and two-year-olds in the Spring Budget.
50 Aaron Bastani
Novara Media co-founder
Novara Media, which Bastani co-founded in 2011, pre-dated Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership and has outlasted it. Rather than fading as some predicted, the organisation has grown in prominence and now has 323,000 YouTube subscribers and a staff of 24.
Bastani’s ideologically heterodox approach means he enjoys increasing influence across the media (he has given a TED talk and is a contributor to the post-liberal site UnHerd). His first book, Fully Automated Luxury Communism was published in 2019 and his next will assess “the politics of ageing”.
[See also: The New Statesman’s right power list]
This article appears in the 17 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Left Power List