Since Sir Keir Starmer’s election as Labour Party Leader on April 4th, speculation has already begun as to the direction he will take the party, and what in fact ‘Starmerism’ will be.
It was clear throughout his leadership bid that Starmer was marketing himself as the ‘unity’ candidate, one who would attempt to instil peace between those who wished to defend the legacy of Corbyn, and those who wished for the party to return to its politics of yesteryear. This presents somewhat of an impossible balancing act for any leader, and initial evidence suggests that rather than attempting to appease members of factional groups, Starmer is seeking to forge his own political identity from the ‘soft left’ of the party.
This involved an inevitable clear out of some of Corbyn’s most enthusiastic supporters, such as Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, Jon Trickett and Barry Gardiner, which followed the pre-announced resignations of John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. Despite this, many of Corbyn’s more capable allies have been retained, notably Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner and John Ashworth.
Interestingly, the incredibly important job of Chancellor was given to Oxford East MP Annaliese Dodds, a Corbyn shadow cabinet member, who was endorsed by John McDonnell after serving under him. Notably, she won this post at the expense of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, a prominent ally of the more ‘anti-Corbyn’ wing of the party, who was appointed to the much lesser role of Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Whilst Dodds may not be a certified Corbynista, her economic policy is far closer to his than Reeves’s, and Starmer’s choice to appoint her in such a key role may give a good indication of his economic vision for the next election.
In other key positions, roles were given to the likes of Lisa Nandy, David Lammy, and a return for Ed Miliband. Once again, whilst they are not Corbyn allies, they are not Corbyn opponents either. Instead they come from the ‘soft left’ wing of the Labour Party, a group that is noticeably more left wing in 2020 than it was in 2010, or even 2015.
This once again shows Starmer’s aim of forging a truly central identity for his administration, rather than attempting to play referee between two sides of bitter enemies within his own cabinet. This adherence to omitting ‘factional leaders’ was shown in the snubbing of vocal anti-Corbyn MP’s, such as Wes Streeting, Neil Coyle and Margaret Hodge, as well as notable experienced politicians from the anti-Corbyn wing of the party, such as Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn, although the latter have retained their high profile roles as select committee chairs.
An additional factor to consider is another consistent theme in Starmer’s cabinet choices – loyalty. Appointments of the likes of Nick Thomas-Symonds and Jim McMahon, both close to Starmer, perhaps shows the value he puts in trust. The same could be said about the return of Ed Miliband, which is a somewhat bold political move, but accounts suggest that Starmer’s appreciation for Miliband’s role in his own MP selection in 2015 may have been influential here.
On the other hand, it would appear that disloyalty is a trait that has also been strongly rejected by the new Labour leader. Perhaps the biggest snub of the shuffle was of Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips, who despite being one of only four MPs to make the leadership ballot, was completely omitted.
The writing on the wall regarding this decision is perhaps obvious, given that Phillips was arguably the most vocal anti-Corbyn figure of the past few years, seemingly unwavering in her quest to criticise his leadership on every media publication in the country. The message from Starmer is maybe that whilst he may not be Corbyn, he is not someone who appreciates such explicit backstabbing within his own party.
In terms of the more outward makeup of the cabinet, Starmer seems true to his word of choosing a cabinet of diversity, being made up of more women than men, as well as having 7 BAME MPs.
Some critics have suggested that the cabinet lacks many rabble-rousing speakers, which could perhaps result in the dreaded use of the word boring in media descriptions. The exception to this is of course Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, who is expected to embrace the John Prescott interpretation of the role, with her passionate speeches perhaps offering an effective contrast to Starmer’s more precise and lawyerly affectations.
The move to clear the shadow cabinet of many of its more vocal members has been described by LabourLists Sienna Rodgers as a victory for the ‘quiet and competent’, who make up the backbone of the new cabinet.
Other than cabinet appointments, one of Starmer’s immediate focuses as Labour leader has been to confront the controversy of anti-Semitism within the party, making a start within a matter of days. This primarily involved a video meeting with key leaders within the Jewish community, which was met with a positive response.
As well as this, he has stated that his administration would cooperate fully with the ongoing EHRC investigation, and hinted at future training for Labour party activists on the topic of anti-Semitism. Whilst the topic of anti-Semitism during Corbyn’s leadership is certainly a murky topic, it is undeniable that the issue was damaging to the party’s reputation, and the fact that Starmer’s leadership may signify a resolution to the issue is undoubtedly a positive for the party.
Overall, whilst it is impossible to predict after a matter of days, the signs seem to suggest that Keir Starmer aims to revolve his leadership around a new brand of Labour politics, a form of the ‘soft left’ that includes many of the rising stars within the party, with a focus on younger politicians with an eye for detail.
Whilst it is impossible to talk about policy, the snubbing of ‘New Labour’ supporters seems to indicate that there will not be a regression back to the 1990s. The brand seems to be aimed at the centre of the Labour party, rather than ‘centrism’ in the country as a whole.
As well as this, Starmer’s ‘10 pledges’ include explicit support for many of Corbyn’s flagship policies, such as nationalisation of key industries, and the ‘aspirational socialism’ of the Green New deal. This perhaps is testament to Corbyn’s true legacy in the party, as these were issues that would have had politicians like Starmer branded as as ‘far left’ for supporting. Only time will tell what will happen next, and whilst it is clear that Starmer is not Corbyn, he is most certainly no Tony Blair either.