Why Angela Rayner is far more than a deputy leader in name only

Keir Starmer's first front bench underlines Rayner's power over the Labour machine.

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Just what is the deputy leader of the Labour Party, anyway? That’s a question on which all five of the candidates to succeed Tom Watson appeared to disagree. History does not provide us with a clear guide either – the role and its responsibilities have changed depending on each holder and their leader. It is only now that Keir Starmer has finished assembling his first front bench in full that we know the answer.

We already knew that, alongside her elected position as deputy, Angela Rayner would become the Labour Party chair – a role that friends say she had coveted. She now also becomes shadow First Secretary of State, and will deputise for Starmer at PMQs But much more significant is her appointment – a privilege never extended to Tom Watson. But just as if not more significant is her assumption of the role of national campaign co-ordinator, a post hitherto occupied by Ian Lavery, her predecessor as chair, and Rayner’s fellow Mancunian Andrew Gwynne. 

When Gwynne quit the shadow cabinet earlier this week, he signed off with a pointed complaint. Though nominally responsible for the party’s election campaigns, he claimed to have been sidelined by Corbyn’s office in 2019 – a frustration that many in the last shadow cabinet shared. That Rayner has succeeded him leaves no doubt as to just who is responsible for Labour’s campaigning efforts – or that her role is to enforce Starmer’s promised overhaul of the party machine, as he told Jewish community leaders on a Zoom call earlier this week. As the dust settles on Keir Starmer's first shadow cabinet, it is clear Rayner is far more than a deputy in name only.

Patrick Maguire is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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