Labour reshuffle: Starmer aims to combine experience and youth

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

Image source, PA Media

Reshuffles rarely go smoothly.

If you're a regular here, you've probably heard one of my favourite anecdotes before: about the Post-It Note with a poor hopeful minister's name on it that literally fell off a whiteboard, and with it, his chances of a big job crashed to the floor too.

Sir Keir Starmer's latest reorganisation created a proper stink before it had even really got going.

The Labour leader decided to reshuffle his top team on the same day that his deputy, Angela Rayner, was giving a big speech.

The speech had been discussed with the leader's office, and it had been shared with his team.

But Ms Rayner didn't know about the reshuffle until after she had done a succession of media interviews on Monday morning, where she was asked to comment on a reshuffle she didn't know about.

A brief word with the leader later, and Ms Rayner went through a pretty toe-curling morning of being asked questions by hungry hacks about likely changes to the team, with only the barest of bones of information.

So far, so trivial, you might cry - except that Sir Keir's last reshuffle also involved a nuclear-level row with, you guessed it, Angela Rayner.

So much of the political morning was taken up in Labour circles by the kind of internal sniping that the party is so good at, but can be so destructive, and hard for the wider world to understand.

Either Starmer's team were aware that shaking up the team on Rayner's big day might overshadow her, and weren't fussed - something that riles her supporters.

Or, the leadership hadn't worked out that a reshuffle would grab some of the headlines she hoped for - and that's not ideal either.

For what it's worth, I'm told tonight the date had been marked some time ago as a day to make the moves, ahead of an extended shadow cabinet meeting on Tuesday, to allow new joiners to bed in before Christmas.

But whether it was a diary snarl-up, an attempt to undermine, or maybe just an unhappy coincidence, the way the morning unfolded has stirred things up again between Sir Keir and his deputy - who is, remember, elected to her position.

One source sniped that the messy morning was a reminder that "Keir's team isn't great at politics, but Angela's don't realise she ain't leader".

Image source, PA Media

Whatever the kerfuffle over the process of making the changes, what does it tell us about Keir Starmer's leadership now?

First off, there are some big changes.

The faces you'll see regularly on your TV or in the newspapers or hear on the radio are changing in key areas like health and education, with promotions into both of those jobs for Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson respectively.

Along with appointments like Peter Kyle, who takes on the Northern Ireland brief, Sir Keir is giving space and prominence to some of the party's up and comers.

There'll be extra visibility too for shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy.

Box office duels

Technically her move from the Foreign Office brief is a demotion, but, Starmer's team says, they want her to be more prominent and visible in taking on Michael Gove on "levelling up" - the promise to equalise opportunity across the country, and the government's main mantra.

A bigger job goes to David Lammy, replacing her in taking on Liz Truss.

Along with the return of Yvette Cooper to the front bench as shadow home secretary, the hope is that this reshuffle combines making the best of Labour's experience and the young, bright things of the future.

It's certainly likely to create some SW1 box office face-offs between Yvette Cooper and her counterpart Priti Patel.

Rightward move?

There is some trepidation though that Sir Keir is stepping softly, but surely, towards Labour's right.

That's rejected by Team Starmer, who say it's simply about getting people into the right roles and getting the team ready for the next election.

One shadow cabinet member suggested the hires are about "competence", and not driven by ideology.

But there's no surprise that members of the Corbyn project aren't impressed.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the moves were more like "Christmas Past" than "Christmas Future".

The political gravity of the new team is certainly a long way from where the party was under Mr Corbyn.

Even among the so-called Soft Left of the party, there are some nerves.

But Starmer's allies hope that minus this morning's shambolic start, this is a team that can more credibly face the government, and of course, in turn, more credibly face you.

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