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The left power list 2024

The 50 most influential people shaping Britain’s progressive politics.

By New Statesman

Last year we published our inaugural left power list – a guide to the 50 most influential people in progressive politics. Twelve months on, with Labour poised to enter government for the first time in 14 years, we have repeated the exercise. As before, 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.

What are the trends that emerge from the last year? Labour’s proximity to power has inevitably shaped our list. Of the top 30, 15 are shadow cabinet ministers or party aides. New entrants include Josh Simons, the executive director of the Starmerite think tank Labour Together, and Miatta Fahnbulleh, the former head of the New Economics Foundation – both are standing for Labour, in Makerfield and Peckham respectively. We also feature intellectuals who have shaped the party’s economic thinking, such as the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik (a leading influence on Rachel Reeves) and the Cambridge University professor of political economy Helen Thompson.

From the wider left, George Galloway makes the list, following his victory in the Rochdale by-election, as does Carla Denyer, the co-leader of the Green Party, who is projected to defeat Labour in Bristol Central.

Cultural figures are notable by their absence: there is no equivalent to the Blair-supporting Noel Gallagher in 1997 or the Corbyn-backing Stormzy in 2017. But the Undertones’ singer Feargal Sharkey features, owing to his crusade against water pollution.

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Though the left is far from united, Labour’s emphatic poll lead – and the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system – means it is likely to enjoy overwhelming power in the next parliament. But will an intensely factional party be able to agree on how to use it?
By George Eaton

1 Morgan McSweeney    ↑ 2 from 2023 list
Labour campaign director

Illustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Without Morgan McSweeney, Keir Starmer may never have become Labour leader. It was the Irishman who devised a meticulous strategy to reclaim a broken party from the radical left by appealing to its social democratic centre. His main insight – driven by polling – was that a membership that had elected Jeremy Corbyn was not Corbynite.

As Labour’s campaign director since 2021, McSweeney, 47, has overseen the revival of a once formidable electoral machine. He dismissed the fatalistic suggestion that the party had lost the working class and needed to forge a new progressive coalition. By targeting Leave supporters where the Conservatives triumphed in 2019, McSweeney has put Labour on course for government. Such is the efficiency of the party’s vote that he believes it could now win a parliamentary majority with a lead of just six points.

For these reasons, we rank McSweeney as the most influential person on the British left today. In the midst of a general election campaign, there is no individual in Labour whose opinion matters more. McSweeney has used his power to ruthlessly shape the party’s candidate selections, with left-wingers removed and political allies installed. Electorates, as McSweeney continually reminds the shadow cabinet, are volatile. His next task will be protecting the party’s poll lead through an intense campaign. His second, should he accept it, will be ensuring Labour’s re-election.

2 Keir Starmer    → No change from 2023 list
Leader of the Opposition

Three years ago, in the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election, Keir Starmer considered resigning as leader. Then, as Boris Johnson eyed a decade in power, few in Westminster gave Starmer a hope of becoming prime minister. In a provocative and widely read essay for the New Statesman, Tony Blair warned that his successor was “struggling to break through with the public” and that the party was “even asking whether Keir is the right leader”. Starmer, according to many commentators, was simply too uninspiring, too cautious or too apolitical to win.

Yet a month before the 2024 general election, Starmer is close to the ultimate vindication. Having suffered its worst defeat since 1935 just four and a half years ago, Labour is on the verge of returning to office.

What accounts for this transformation? One theory holds that Starmer is merely a “lucky general”. Partygate, the Truss debacle, the SNP’s implosion – all of these have occurred during his leadership. But Starmer’s allies contend that Tory failure has never been a guarantee of Labour success. It was only by restoring his party’s credibility on the economy and national security that Starmer ensured he could benefit. In pursuit of these goals, he has displayed political ruthlessness: removing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn (whom he once called a “friend”), sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet, and abandoning or diluting many of the ten pledges on which he won the Labour leadership.

Whether this is deemed pragmatism or betrayal, history will judge Starmer on his record as prime minister. What would define his No 10? The Labour leader’s moderate demeanour masks some radical commitments: the biggest workers’ rights programme for decades; clean power by 2030; the renationalisation of the railways; a bonfire of planning regulations. In other areas, notably tax and spending, Labour remains defined by caution.

Which of these temperaments can we expect in office? The answer, for now, is unknown. Starmer has eschewed grand visions and theories in favour of a vow to return Labour “to the service of working people”.  Robert Caro, the biographer of Lyndon B Johnson, observed: “Power corrupts… But what is never said, but is just as true, is that power reveals.” Keir Starmer will soon enjoy more power than ever, but what will be revealed?

3 Rachel Reeves    ↓ 2
Shadow chancellor

The shadow chancellor, who topped our poll last year (“Congratulations!” texted Keir Starmer; “You’re stepping on my heels,” replied Rachel Reeves), remains pivotal to Labour’s project. Starmer, who lacks an economics background, values her intellectual acumen, political nous and trade union connections. She is the shadow cabinet’s leading thinker. Reeves’ doctrine of “securonomics”, elaborated in her 8,000-word Mais Lecture in March, will shape the next government’s world-view. “It is no longer enough, if it ever was, for the state to simply get out of the way, to leave markets to their own devices,” the former Bank of England economist declared. She has repudiated New Labour’s unwavering faith in market-driven globalisation, championing industrial strategy and stronger workers’ rights.

But this supply-side radicalism is juxtaposed with fiscal caution. Though she has vowed that there would be “no return to austerity”, Reeves has refused to make large tax and spending commitments. Labour’s abandonment of its £28bn green investment pledge demonstrated the hold that her fiscal rules have over the party’s programme.

Should Rachel Reeves enter the Treasury, she will make history as the first female chancellor of the Exchequer. But success will depend on fulfilling her promise of higher economic growth.

4 Angela Rayner    ↑ 4
Deputy Labour Leader

Photo by Linda Brownlee for the New Statesman

Labour’s deputy leader endured some of the toughest months of her political career as she was investigated by Greater Manchester Police over allegations that she broke electoral law with her housing arrangements in the early 2010s. But Rayner, 44, ultimately emerged strengthened as she was cleared of any wrong-doing and retained the support of Keir Starmer throughout.

In September 2023, Rayner was appointed shadow deputy prime minister, and rises up our list this year as a consequence. In the same reshuffle, she also became shadow secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, and she retains ownership of the party’s New Deal for Working People (now known as the Plan to Make Work Pay). 

Her relationship with Starmer – he removed her as party chair and national campaign coordinator in 2021 – had been strained but is now much improved. Uniquely in the shadow cabinet, as the party’s elected deputy leader, Rayner enjoys her own mandate and is central to all internal Labour decisions.

The recent feud over Diane Abbott’s candidacy was an apt example. While Starmer repeatedly insisted that no decision had been made, Rayner declared: “I don’t see any reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand as  a Labour MP.” She added: “I am saying that as the deputy leader of the Labour Party.” Faced with this intervention, it was Starmer rather than Rayner who U-turned.

5 Sue Gray    ↑ 2
Chief of staff to Keir Starmer

Illustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Sue Gray’s appointment is the most contentious Keir Starmer has made. As a Whitehall veteran, she was accused of breaching civil service impartiality and her report into partygate made her a bête noire for Conservatives. But after a Whitehall-enforced waiting period of six months, Gray joined Starmer’s team in September and has since led Labour’s preparations for government: its first King’s Speech and its first 100 days.

Gray has also influenced the party’s day-to-day operations. She has improved relations between Starmer and Labour’s metro mayors, including Andy Burnham, by arranging fortnightly meetings. Shadow cabinet ministers and MPs have praised her for encouraging a more collegiate approach by Starmer’s office. But her interventions have caused tensions with Morgan McSweeney and his campaign team. The party was forced to distance itself from her public support for citizens’ assemblies – of which she said, “Whitehall will not like this,” in a hint of her disruptive potential.

6 David Lammy    ↑ 27
Shadow foreign secretary

The shadow foreign secretary’s profile and influence have surged in recent months, making him the highest riser on our list. David Lammy has used a series of speeches and an essay in Foreign Affairs to outline his doctrine of “progressive realism”, which he defines as achieving progressive ends through realist means. In the Foreign Office he would champion climate diplomacy, multilateral institutions and improved relations with the Global South.

Ahead of this November’s US election, he has met senior Republicans and Democrats in Washington, including the national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the Ohio senator JD Vance (a potential vice-president under Donald Trump). A long-time friend of Barack Obama’s, Lammy organised a call between the former president and Starmer. He has also forged close relations with the Macron administration as he seeks an ambitious new UK-EU defence and security pact. Can the former arch-Remainer heal the Brexit divide at home and abroad?

7 Pat McFadden    ↑ 18
Labour national campaign coordinator

The veteran Blairite is the most powerful Labour politician that most people have never heard of. As the party’s national campaign coordinator, McFadden, 59, will have greater influence than ever during the general election. In the face of inevitable distractions, he will seek to ensure that Labour maintains a ruthless focus on its key messages and themes (his wife, Marianna, is deputy to Morgan McSweeney). Alongside Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, the austere, unflappable McFadden will also be the party’s key broadcast spokesperson.

Beyond the election, his influence is set to endure. Having served as Tony Blair’s political secretary from 2002 to 2005 and as deputy to Peter Mandelson in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, McFadden has valuable front-line experience. He is expected to act as Keir Starmer’s “enforcer” in government, ensuring that the Labour leader’s priorities are reflected across Whitehall. With Starmer, Rachel Reeves and Angela Rayner, McFadden would form part of an executive cabinet (or “quad”) designed to make decisions in a less unwieldy manner.

8 Wes Streeting    ↓ 2
Shadow health secretary

In a month’s time, Wes Streeting expects to assume responsibility for the NHS: one of the world’s largest employers, with a budget of over £180bn. He will inherit a service in crisis: waiting lists stand at 7.5 million people and Britons now have the worst access to healthcare in Europe.

Streeting, 41, has long emphasised the importance of reform, warning that the NHS will go “bankrupt” without change. He has declared that “middle-class lefties” will not stop him from making use of the private sector to cut waiting lists.

The shadow health secretary enjoys added prominence as one of Labour’s most gifted communicators, and he has an inspiring personal story (recounted in his memoir One Boy, Two Bills and a Fry Up). He has admitted to leadership ambitions, stating that he would “die happy” if he was able to become prime minister. But his first task will be to prevent an NHS crisis from derailing Labour during its first six months in office.

9 Torsten Bell    ↑ 1
Labour candidate and economist

Over the past decade, economic debate has shifted towards a focus on living standards. Among those who can take credit for this is Torsten Bell, who recently stepped down as chief executive of the Resolution Foundation after nine years (having been selected as Labour’s candidate in Swansea West). In December, the launch event for the think tank’s final Economy 2030 report was addressed by both Keir Starmer and Jeremy Hunt, a demonstration of the organisation’s cross-party reach.

As Labour prepares for power, Bell’s influence is only likely to grow. The 42-year-old served as the party’s director of policy during Ed Miliband’s leadership and enjoys close connections to many of the shadow cabinet. Inside Westminster, some expect Bell to be immediately appointed to a ministerial position following the election. Bell’s first book, Great Britain?: How We Get Our Future Back, will be studied closely as an economic blueprint for a Starmer administration.

10 Sharon Graham    ↑ 1
Unite general secretary

As general secretary of Unite since 2021, Graham has taken a markedly different approach to her predecessor, Len McCluskey. While the latter relished his reputation as a Labour puppet master, Graham, 55, has focused on industrial struggle rather than internal machinations. This strategy has borne fruit with Unite’s 1.2 million members – such as oil and gas workers, bus drivers and car manufacturers – consistently winning impressive pay awards.

But as the head of Labour’s second-largest affiliated union, Graham has continued to make her views known. She has led opposition to attempts to dilute the party’s workers’ rights programme and has warned Keir Starmer not to ban new North Sea licences without a plan to safeguard jobs.

11 Andy Burnham    ↑ 1
Mayor of Greater Manchester

Photo by Paul Ellis / AFP

The Greater Manchester mayor is the self-styled “King of the North” having won a third term by a landslide margin (with 63 per cent of the vote). Burnham has used his position to return the region’s buses to public control and to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. 

The former Labour cabinet minister has had a tense relationship with Keir Starmer, making critical interventions over the war in Gaza, green investment, the House of Lords, electoral reform and the whipping system. But under a Labour government, the pair may find common cause: they are already discussing plans for a new Liverpool-Manchester railway. Should Starmer falter, however, Burnham could become a figurehead of opposition.

12 Tony Blair    ↑ 4
Former prime minister

When Keir Starmer appeared on stage with Tony Blair at last year’s Future of Britain conference, it was the first time that Blair, 71, had shared such a public platform with any of his successors. Starmer was welcoming the former prime minister back into the Labour fold after years in exile – during which Blair had flirted with backing a new centrist party. In turn, Blair was publicly endorsing the first Labour leader since 2005 to be on course for a general election victory.

But, as ever, Blair’s true influence is behind the scenes. He speaks regularly with Starmer and members of the shadow cabinet, sharing contacts and offering advice. His Tony Blair Institute, which employs more than 800 people worldwide and has revenues of $140m, will help staff the next Labour government and shape policy in areas such as artificial intelligence.

Blair-era aides – Pat McFadden, Peter Hyman, Matthew Doyle – are influential. But while Starmer has borrowed New Labour’s campaign techniques, he has distanced himself from its economic philosophy, pursuing a more statist approach. Perhaps most importantly, Blair’s progressive techno-futurist vision cuts against the gritty, incremental programme Starmer has outlined.

13 Sadiq Khan    ↑ 4
Mayor of London

A month ago there were some who doubted whether Sadiq Khan would retain office at all. But the London mayor’s comfortable victory over the Conservative mayoral candidate, Susan Hall, has given him a record third term and renewed authority. Khan’s extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) – a £12.50 daily charge on the most polluting vehicles – further antagonised his critics. It was also blamed by aides in Keir Starmer’s office for Labour’s defeat in last summer’s Uxbridge by-election. But the policy helped Khan attract green-minded voters in the mayoral election and air pollution has fallen faster in London than elsewhere in the UK.

It seems that for the first time since he became mayor in 2016, Khan will have the chance to work with a Labour government. He and Keir Starmer have known each other for more than 20 years as fellow human rights lawyers, collaborating on a case that challenged the first use of kettling by the Metropolitan Police at the 2001 May Day demonstrations. After years of political warfare between Westminster and City Hall, the Labour leader has vowed to work “hand in glove” with the mayor and end the era of “London-bashing”.

14 Christina McAnea    ↓ 5
Unison general secretary

As general secretary of Unison, McAnea leads the country’s biggest trade union, with more than 1.3 million members, concentrated in the NHS, education and local government. Last year she won an improved pay deal from the government for health workers.

She was raised on Glasgow’s Drumchapel estate and was originally a Communist Party member, but embraced the politics of social democratic compromise. “You achieve nothing if you’re not in power,” she has said.

Her union is the closest to Keir Starmer’s office and helped him secure crucial internal party reforms. In return, McAnea will expect a Labour government to deliver stronger workers’ rights and improved NHS funding. 

15 Ed Miliband   ↑ 6
Shadow climate change and net zero secretary

Fourteen years after his time in government ended, Ed Miliband is poised to return. Since 2021, the former Labour leader (who led his party to defeat in the 2015 general election) has held the same brief that he occupied in Gordon Brown’s cabinet: energy and climate change.

Though he lost an internal battle to maintain Labour’s £28bn green investment pledge, Miliband’s influence endures. His plan to establish GB Energy – a state-owned energy company – has become one of Keir Starmer’s six election pledges. Labour also remains committed to delivering clean power by 2030 and to investing at least £23.7bn in green industries across the next parliament.

There have been regular reports of Miliband facing the sack from the shadow cabinet, and he is not one of the faces of the election campaign. But he and Starmer are closer than such commentary suggests. Miliband was “instrumental”, MPs say, to Starmer’s adoption as the parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras in 2014. Is the Labour leader now about to reward his old London ally?

16 John Swinney    ← NEW
Scottish First Minister

The veteran SNP politician became First Minister unopposed in the aftermath of Humza Yousaf’s disastrous leadership. Swinney, 60, signalled that he was intent on change by appointing Kate Forbes, a religious social conservative, as deputy first minister in defiance of attacks on her from the party’s progressive wing and the Scottish Greens. “I am no caretaker,” he has insisted. But he faces a formidable task as the SNP endures its worst poll ratings for a decade. The next Holyrood contest is not until 2026, but a Scottish Labour victory in July’s UK general election would deepen his party’s crisis. 

17 Deborah Mattinson    ↑ 1
Director of strategy for Keir Starmer

It was in the wake of Labour’s disastrous defeat in the 2021 Hartlepool by-election that Keir Starmer turned to Mattinson. As the author of Beyond the Red Wall (2020) – a book on how the party lost its traditional heartlands – and the founder of the polling company Britain Thinks, she was a natural choice for director of strategy. Mattinson has remained pivotal ever since, maintaining a relentless focus on “hero voters”: former Labour supporters who backed Brexit in 2016 and Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019. Having first worked for the party in the 1980s and advised Gordon Brown as he prepared to enter No 10, her experience will be invaluable for Starmer in the months ahead.

18 John Healey    ← NEW
Shadow defence secretary

In this era of geopolitical crisis, defence has returned as a defining political issue. Keir Starmer has pledged to increase spending on defence to 2.5 per cent of GDP “as soon as resources allow”.

As shadow defence secretary, Healey, 64, is more prominent than at any point in his long career: he has served on the front bench under every Labour leader since Tony Blair (a record matched only by Hilary Benn in the shadow cabinet).

“We’ve got deep roots in defending the country, because it’s been working men and women who have fought and often died on the front line,” Healey recently told the New Statesman. Alongside David Lammy, he is reviving the tradition of Labour’s Ernest Bevin, the co-founder of Nato and foreign secretary in the 1945-51 Clement Attlee government, which commissioned the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

19 Anas Sarwar    ↑ 20
Scottish Labour leader

Labour’s collapse in Scotland in 2015 still haunts those at the top of the party. Strategists know that restoring its dominance across the country’s 57 House of Commons seats is crucial to winning a large UK parliamentary majority. As leader since 2021, Sarwar has overseen the recovery of a previously moribund Scottish Labour. The SNP’s woes mean that Labour is now hopeful of winning 30-plus seats in Scotland (up from just two at present). 

But the biggest prize for Sarwar, 41, is the chance to become first minister at the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026. In a recent interview with the New Statesman, he emphasised that he could not afford an “unpopular” Labour government in Westminster. Expect Sarwar, who recently backed a ban on UK arms sales to Israel, to differentiate himself from Keir Starmer when required.

20 Peter Hyman    ← NEW
Senior adviser to Keir Starmer

One of the defining features of a Starmer government will be its “mission-led” approach. The champion of this vision is Peter Hyman, the Labour leader’s senior adviser, who adapted the idea from the UCL economist Mariana Mazzucato. The “five missions” – which cover the economy, decarbonisation, the NHS, crime and education – are designed to address the UK’s chronic short-termism and serve as an anchor for all policy decisions. “Are we going to do A or B? If the answer is it helps with that mission, then the answer is ‘yes’,” Starmer has said.

Hyman, a former strategist and speechwriter in Tony Blair’s No 10, is also the co-founder and former headteacher of School 21, a free school in Stratford, east London, and an education policy expert. In 1997, he devised Labour’s celebrated pledge card – the inspiration for Starmer’s recent “Six first steps”. As one of Starmer’s most experienced aides, he is likely to play a pivotal role in the Labour leader’s Downing Street.

21 Yvette Cooper    ↑ 15
Shadow home secretary

The former Labour leadership candidate is one of the party’s great survivors, having first entered parliament nearly 30 years ago. As shadow home secretary, she occupies a crucial brief: Keir Starmer’s six pledges include commitments to establish a new border security command, reduce net migration and crack down on antisocial behaviour. Cooper will be the person tasked with meeting these promises and others, such as a vow to halve the level of serious crime.

Her cabinet experience – she served as work and pensions secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown – will be useful in the early days of a Labour government. But can she defy the Home Office’s reputation as a ministerial graveyard?

22 Martin Lewis    ↓ 18
Consumer campaigner

As they vie for control of the Treasury, both Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves crave the endorsement of the nation’s unofficial financial adviser. Throughout the cost-of-living crisis, Lewis, 52, has enjoyed heightened prominence, most recently influencing more generous child-benefit rules. He previously warned that higher energy bills would lead to “civil unrest” (ministers later announced the Energy Price Guarantee) and condemned the Truss administration’s calamitous mini-Budget. The fall in inflation from 11.1 per cent to 2.3 per cent has made Lewis – who sold his MoneySavingExpert website to the Money Supermarket Group in 2012 for £87m – less central to debate. But his influence could resurge should a Labour government struggle to raise living standards.

23 Shabana Mahmood    ↓ 3
Shadow justice secretary

So overcrowded are British prisons that the police were recently urged to make fewer arrests. As shadow justice secretary, Mahmood, 43, an Oxford-educated lawyer, would assume one of the toughest departments in Whitehall. She has vowed to use emergency powers to build new prisons and stop inmates being released months early. The former barrister has also pledged to defend the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights and to end political attacks on the judiciary. 

As the most senior Muslim in parliament, Mahmood led calls from within the shadow cabinet for Labour to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in February. She later warned that Keir Starmer’s LBC interview – in which he suggested that Israel had the right to withhold energy and water from the territory – “led to a loss of trust between us and the British Muslim community which obviously we need to put right”. 

Mahmood has also influenced the party’s more sceptical stance on transgender rights, and said she agrees with JK Rowling that “biological sex is real and is immutable”.

24 Bridget Phillipson    ↑ 19
Shadow education secretary

Crumbling schools and collapsing universities are among the crises that Bridget Phillipson will inherit should she become education secretary. Labour has pledged to recruit 6,500 more teachers, funded by ending tax breaks for private schools – a policy that the Oxford-educated, working-class Phillipson has championed. Her interventions on affordable childcare prompted Jeremy Hunt to take pre-emptive action in the March 2023 Budget, and she has vowed to build an ambitious Estonian-style system (which offers all parents state-subsidised childcare).

Phillipson, 40, renowned for her seriousness and competence, has been an MP since 2010 when she was elected in Sunderland, where she grew up. She will be a key member of the new Labour government.

25 JK Rowling    ↓ 11
Campaigner and author

The Harry Potter author has become the UK’s most prominent gender-critical feminist. She led the opposition to the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill – which the UK government vetoed last year – and helped to influence Labour’s decision to abandon its support for gender self-identification. The recent Cass Review into children’s gender services, which criticised “remarkably weak”  evidence on medical interventions, further strengthened her position.

Rowling, 58, has long been active in politics: she donated £1m to the Labour Party in 2008, citing its reduction of child poverty, and opposed Scottish independence ­(donating £1m to the Better Together campaign). But it is Rowling’s interventions on trans rights that now define her, and they are guaranteed mass coverage during the general election.

26 Stephen Flynn    → No change
SNP Westminster leader

In a House of Commons denuded of powerful orators, Flynn, 35, is a startling exception. The SNP’s Westminster leader commands attention at Prime Minister’s Questions each week, often making news through his sharp questions to Rishi Sunak. In February, his outrage over Lindsay Hoyle’s handling of the Gaza ceasefire debate left the Speaker fighting for his job.

Flynn’s immediate future hinges on the SNP’s general election performance. Should the Liberal Democrats become Westminster’s third party, he would lose his guaranteed slot at PMQs. But Flynn’s attention is ultimately set on a move to Holyrood. “Anyone who’s elected for the SNP wants to be in Scotland’s national parliament, which is not in Westminster – it’s in Edinburgh,” he told the New Statesman last year. As such, he is increasingly spoken of as a future party leader.

27 Justin Welby    → No change
Archbishop of Canterbury

Photo by Jason Bye / Alamy

For more than ten years, Welby has proved a meddlesome priest for the Conservatives. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he has denounced the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, condemned austerity as a policy of “crushing the weak” and opposed tax cuts for high earners.

Under a Labour government, the Eton-educated former oil executive is likely to remain a dissenting voice. He recently urged Keir Starmer to scrap the two-child benefit limit, describing it as a “cruel policy” that is “neither moral nor necessary”.

Welby, 68, has indicated that he intends to remain in office until January 2026 by which time he will be the longest-serving Archbishop of Canterbury for half a century.

28 Roula Khalaf    ← NEW
Financial Times editor

Since becoming editor of the Financial Times in 2020, the British-Lebanese journalist has moved the business paper towards the liberal centre. She has conceded that the FT “went too far” in its support for Cameron-era austerity in the UK and it backed a ceasefire in Gaza shortly after Israel’s invasion of the Strip. Leading columnists such as Martin Wolf, Sarah O’Connor and John Burn-Murdoch have assailed the Conservatives’ record in office.

Having endorsed no party in 2019, and the Conservatives in 2017 and 2015, the FT is expected to back Labour for the first time since 2005 at this year’s election – support that would be prized by Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves as they seek to win the confidence of business.

29 Matthew Doyle    ↑ 6
Labour director of communications

In the heat of a general election campaign, media coverage can make or break a party’s fortunes. As Labour’s executive director of communications since 2021, Matthew Doyle has served as the party’s spokesperson to Westminster lobby journalists and the wider media. Doyle, who previously worked as Labour’s head of press and broadcasting from 1998 to 2005, and as a special adviser to both Tony Blair and the former Labour home secretary David Blunkett, was another of the veterans Starmer recruited in the wake of the 2021 Hartlepool by-election defeat.

30 George Galloway    ← NEW
Workers Party Leader

By winning the Rochdale by-election in February, Galloway, a veteran agitator, became the first person since Winston Churchill to be elected to four separate constituencies. His ability to torment the Labour Party gives him a unique power in British politics. Galloway’s election helped influence Starmer’s support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as MPs feared a wave of maverick victories. As leader of the Workers Party, the Scotsman espouses a mixture of anti-Westernism, economic interventionism and social conservatism. But his next task is keeping his seat at the general election.

31 Gary Lineker    ↓ 26
TV presenter, pundit and podcast mogul

Since his brief suspension last year from Match of the Day – he compared the government’s rhetoric on immigration to that of Nazi Germany – the former England striker has carefully rationed his political interventions. But he has made his voice heard over the war in Gaza, declaring that he “can’t be silent” about “the worst thing I’ve seen in my life”.

Lineker, 63, was criticised for sharing an interview with the Israeli academic Raz Segal who described the Netanyahu government’s operation as a “textbook genocide”. The Match of the Day presenter’s Twitter following (8.9 million) and national-treasure status give him a reach beyond that of most politicians.

As the co-owner of Goalhanger Podcasts, Lineker is also responsible for the firm that produces The Rest Is Politics, the chart-topping podcast hosted by Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart.

32 Feargal Sharkey    ← NEW
Environmental campaigner

Photo by Hanna-Katrina Jędrosz for the New Statesman

Britain’s polluted waters have become a symbol of the country’s decline under the Conservatives. The person who has done most to highlight this crisis is Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of the 1970s punk band the Undertones (“Teenage Kicks”) and a lifelong fly fisherman. “The simple truth is water companies have been profiteering at the expense of the environment,” he told the New Statesman in 2022. Two years on, the issue has been embraced by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and dissident Conservatives. Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, has vowed to “clean up our rivers”, imposing automatic and severe fines on private water companies, and making bosses criminally liable. Sharkey, a Labour supporter, will be one of the key judges of whether the party has kept its word.

33 Carys Roberts    ↑ 13
IPPR executive director

Throughout Labour’s many recent incarnations, the Institute for Public Policy Research has been a constant influence. As the election has drawn closer, the think tank has applied its expertise to the party’s preparations for government.

Roberts became executive director in 2020 and has launched programmes including the Commission on Health and Prosperity and the Fair Transition Unit. She works closely with shadow cabinet ministers such as Rachel Reeves – helping to shape Labour’s green prosperity plan – and David Lammy, who launched IPPR’s new international project.

The think tank, which was founded in 1988, also serves as a bridge to an earlier Labour generation including David Miliband (a former staffer) and Peter Mandelson.

34 Alan Lockey    ← NEW
Chief speechwriter to Keir Starmer

During the general election campaign, Keir Starmer’s words will be subject to unprecedented scrutiny. The man responsible for many of them will be Alan Lockey, the Labour leader’s chief speechwriter. A former aide to Tristram Hunt during his time as shadow education secretary, Lockey was appointed in July 2022 and wrote Starmer’s widely praised conference speeches in 2022 and 2023. Lockey is also a policy thinker: he was previously head of work at the Royal Society of Arts and research director at the think tank Demos. This intellectual background gives him added influence in Starmer’s office. 

35 Alastair Campbell    ↑ 5
Podcaster and strategist

To the dismay of his many foes, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor enjoys a larger audience than ever before. Alongside the former Conservative cabinet minister Rory Stewart, Campbell, 67, co-hosts The Rest Is Politics, one of the UK’s most popular podcasts. Having sold out the Royal Albert Hall, they are due to appear at London’s O2 Arena this autumn.

Campbell’s Downing Street experience means his prominence as a commentator – he has one million Twitter followers – would rise further under a Labour government. But will Keir Starmer take any notice of Campbell’s recurring appeals for the UK to rejoin the EU?

36 Katharine Viner    ↓ 6
Guardian editor-in-chief

Though the Guardian’s print circulation has fallen to around 100,000, it retains significant influence. Owing to expansion in the US, the title’s free-to-view website has one of the largest readerships in the world. Viner, 53, has been editor-in-chief for almost a decade, after succeeding Alan Rusbridger in 2015.

The Guardian is viewed with suspicion by some in the shadow cabinet for its endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 and its relentless progressivism. Others inside Labour still recall its support for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in 2010. Will this troubled history repeat itself under a Starmer government?

37 Josh Simons    ← NEW
Labour Together director

Illustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

As director of Labour Together, Simons has led the transformation of the think tank into one of the most powerful outriders for Starmerism. Aided by a wealth of donations – it raised £1.74m in the year to March – the group has expanded from one member of staff to 34 and funds advisers in the offices of nine shadow cabinet ministers, including Rachel Reeves, David Lammy and Yvette Cooper.

Founded almost a decade ago, Labour Together began life as Common Good Labour under the tutelage of John Clarke, the former director of Blue Labour, the left conservative group. From 2017 to 2020 it was led by Morgan McSweeney, now Labour’s campaign director, who deployed it as a vehicle to reclaim the party from the radical left. 

Simons, a former Harvard University research fellow, is close to McSweeney and was selected for the Labour seat of Makerfield on 29 May. He  is likely to be a key operator in the next parliament.

38 Katie Martin    ← NEW
Chief of staff to Rachel Reeves

As Rachel Reeves’ chief of staff, Martin is the shadow chancellor’s most senior aide and trusted gatekeeper. She has helped build Reeves’ close relations with the City of London – culminating in a recent letter from 121 business leaders endorsing Labour – and has been central to the party’s preparations for government. Martin was previously director of external affairs at Citizens Advice and head of philanthropic partnerships at the Guardian. She has long-standing Labour links having served as chief press officer in Gordon Brown’s No 10 from 2008 to 2010.

39 Jeremy Corbyn    ↓ 10
Former Labour leader

By choosing to stand as an independent candidate in Islington North, the former Labour leader has severed his remaining ties with the party. “Jeremy Corbyn’s days of influencing Labour Party policy are well and truly over,” declared Starmer as his predecessor was automatically expelled as a member.

But the 75-year-old’s influence on the left endures. Many pollsters expect him to win re-election in the constituency he has represented since 1983. Should Corbyn do so, he will enjoy renewed attention as a dissenting voice – not least from Conservatives eager to stoke divisions on the left.

40 Dani Rodrik    ← NEW
Harvard University economist

The Turkish-born Harvard academic has been one of the biggest intellectual influences on Rachel Reeves. “There’s a gear shift in economic policy happening around the world. [Rodrik] understands it better than most,” tweeted Reeves last year. Rodrik, 66, held a webinar with the shadow chancellor, and his “productivist” philosophy – using the state to drive productive growth across all regions and sectors – helped shape Reeves’ doctrine of “securonomics”. Long before others, Rodrik elaborated his critique of what he calls “hyperglobalisation”, an intervention cited by Reeves in her recent Mais Lecture.

41 Ben Judah    ← NEW
Political adviser to David Lammy

“Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly worried about Britain’s drift in an ever more troubled world,” tweeted Judah to his 78,000 followers on 29 February as he announced that he was becoming a political adviser to David Lammy. In the three months since, he has helped to shape and promote the shadow foreign secretary’s doctrine of “progressive realism” and dramatically raised his boss’s domestic and international profile.

As a former fellow at the Atlantic Council, the Hudson Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, Judah is adept at navigating Western diplomatic and policy spheres. He is also a published author, writing This Is London (2016), the book that put him on Lammy’s radar, and This Is Europe (2023). In a Labour administration that could be defined by foreign policy, Judah will be one of the central players and a key thinker and aide.

42 Vaughan Gething    ← NEW
Welsh First Minister

Gething’s election as Welsh Labour leader in March was a landmark moment: he became the first black head of government in Europe. But the honeymoon was brief. Plaid Cymru last month withdrew from its cooperation agreement with Labour after Gething, 50, refused to return a £200,000 donation to his leadership campaign from a firm that had been convicted of environmental offences.

As a consequence, he now leads a minority administration – a precarious position, as the former SNP leader Humza Yousaf can testify. Should Gething survive, he will enjoy the benefits of working with a UK Labour government but, for now, we rank him below the position of his predecessor, Mark Drakeford, in 2023 (Drakeford was number 28 on last year’s list).

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43 Mathew Lawrence    ← NEW
Director of Common Wealth

Public ownership has emerged as a distinctive strain within Labour’s policy programme: the party would create GB Energy, a state-owned clean energy company, establish a National Wealth Fund to invest in industrial jobs, and renationalise the railways. As the founder and director of Common Wealth, Lawrence, 36, has been central to this agenda. His think tank’s research and publications on building a “democratic economy” are studied closely by shadow cabinet ministers. Lawrence, a prolific convener who has also built deep ties with the US left, is the co-author of Planet on Fire (with Laurie Laybourn-Langton) and Owning the Future (with Adrienne Buller).

44 Tom Baldwin    ← NEW
Biographer of Keir Starmer and former Labour aide

As the media and the wider world have sought to understand Keir Starmer they have turned to the former Times journalist. Baldwin’s biography of the Labour leader – based on extensive access – was published earlier this year and offers a nuanced portrait of an often enigmatic politician.

The lifelong Labour supporter, who became one of Alastair Campbell’s favoured journalists during the Blair years, served as director of communications and strategy to Ed Miliband during his troubled period as leader of the opposition. Some inside Westminster speculate that Baldwin could yet join Starmer’s Downing Street media team.

45 Owen Jones    ↓ 4
Guardian columnist and YouTuber

The Guardian columnist recently left the Labour Party after 24 years of membership, declaring that it had become a “hostile environment”. Jones, 39, now supports We Deserve Better, a new group that is backing Green and independent candidates.

He has used his columns and YouTube channel (564,000 subscribers) to excoriate supporters of Israel’s invasion of Gaza and to accuse Starmer of a grand betrayal. Jones’s future influence will hinge on the electoral performance of the non-Labour left.

46 Gary Smith    ← NEW
GMB general secretary

Alongside Unison and Unite, the GMB is one of the “big three” trade unions that shape Labour’s internal politics. Though generally supportive of Keir Starmer’s leadership, the Edinburgh-born Smith has used his platform to challenge the party’s green policies. In a 2022 New Statesman interview, he called on Labour to back fracking in defiance of the “bourgeois environmental lobby”. More recently, he has opposed the party’s planned ban on new North Sea oil and gas licences, describing such  restrictions as “bad for investment, jobs and national security”. Should Labour suffer a “greenlash” in office, Gary Smith will be at its forefront.

47 Miatta Fahnbulleh    ← NEW
Labour candidate for Peckham

The Liberia-born economist is one of Labour’s most well-connected new parliamentary candidates. Until her selection in Peckham (Harriet Harman’s former constituency) in November 2022, Fahnbulleh, 44, served for six years as chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, following previous stints at IPPR and the Cabinet Office. She has also worked as a senior economic adviser to both Angela Rayner and Ed Miliband, helping to shape and stress-test policies such as GB Energy and the New Deal for Working People. Fahnbulleh’s experience means she is a natural candidate to join the front bench in a Starmer administration.

48 Helen Thompson    ← NEW
Author and Cambridge University professor

In a new age of conflict, Helen Thompson has emerged as one of our leading public intellectuals. Her book Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century, which distilled the geopolitical, economic and democratic shocks afflicting the West, was widely read at Westminster and in Labour circles. “Until politicians get real about how dysfunctional the world economy has become, they will keep being humiliated,” she warned in the New Statesman.

Thompson, who is professor of political economy at Cambridge University, also sits on the advisory board of the Labour Together think tank (she was Josh Simons’ undergraduate supervisor). She co-hosts These Times, UnHerd’s weekly politics podcast, with the journalist Tom McTague.

49 James Graham    ← NEW

The stories that a nation tells itself about its past help shape its future. Over the past decade, James Graham has emerged as the country’s pre-eminent political playwright. He has dramatised the EU referendum (Brexit: The Uncivil War), Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Sun (Ink), the collapse of the Callaghan government (This House) and Gareth Southgate’s transformation of the England national team (Dear England).

He grew up in the former mining seat of Ashfield and is sympathetic to Keir Starmer’s approach. At the recent launch of the UCL Policy Lab’s Ordinary Hope project, he spoke of his preference for “practical progress” over “grand vision”. Recently asked whether he would dramatise Liz Truss’s farcical premiership, he said, “I wouldn’t want to dwell on a lot of those themes. I’m looking forward to a future where change can actually happen.”

50 Carla Denyer    ← NEW
Co-leader of the Green Party

The Green Party is an insurgent force in British politics. It now holds almost 850 councillors in England and Wales and took majority control of a council (Mid Suffolk) for the first time in May last year. Denyer, 38, the party’s co-leader (alongside Adrian Ramsay), is projected to win Bristol Central from Labour at the general election and become the Greens’ second MP (Caroline Lucas was the first). At the recent local elections her party won every ward in the constituency and fell just short of achieving a majority on the council.

Denyer, a former wind energy engineer, has attracted left-leaning voters alienated by Labour’s stance on the Gaza war and its U-turn over its £28bn green investment pledge. In a recent interview with the New Statesman, she backed policies including the abolition of the monarchy, drugs legalisation and unilateral nuclear disarmament. The Greens have yet to emerge as a truly national force and their poll ratings are unremarkable. But a Labour govern-ment would present new political opportunities – openings that Denyer has the potential to exploit.

This appears in the 7-13 June 2024 issue of the New Statesman magazine

[See also: The left power list 2023]

This article appears in the 05 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Left Power List 2024