A Competent Shadow Cabinet – A Really Welcome Start!

We are just one week into keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party so it’s not time to making grand statements that might look a little foolish in 6-12months time! But whisper it quietly and it looks like competence is back in fashion in the Party.

This week Keir has made plenty of steady media appearances. There was nothing memorable but he struck just the right balance given the current crisis the country faces at the moment. (although I will return to this over the weekend as the death toll rises).

The big moment this week -for many of us who watch every twist and turn too closely for our own good – was the appointment of the remainder of the shadow front bench. I love a good reshuffle. Sad isn’t it!

Competence in Politics is back in fashion in the Labour Party

For those sensibly not following politics too closely the list of MPs below will be a group of people most of whom you will never have heard of. If I am being totally honest there were a few names I had to look up too. Some have managed to keep themselves under the radar for a few years!

Whilst the media coverage concentrated on the big names – and especially those returning like Ed Miliband, Rachel Reeves and Liz Kendall, for me the general standout was the number of MPs who look like round pegs in round holes. Even using Jess Phillips on the Domestic Violence brief was quietly sensible and inspired. Likewise with Liz at the Social Care Brief. This is somebody who knows the brief, has a passion for the case and can competently work through deliverable solutions whilst holding Ministers to account.

Policy making preparing for government is not the same as writing a wish list manifesto for the Labour Party members. It’s a lesson that has not be learned yet. It is one of the tests of Starmer’s leadership. As we know one of the reasons we lost in 2019 was the Manifesto. The electorate can see through fantasy politics. They knew the Manifesto simply was too fanciful and undeliverable. As I wrote at the time Free Broadband and the WASPI campaign were signals of this. The voters saw straight through them for what they were. It was actually embarrassing watching the car crash of the campaign around the manifesto. Just running 2024 on the 2019 manifesto will be a failure of this leadership.

These new shadow front bench and junior ministers will look and sound like politicians who understand the need to put in the hard graft in opposition. Its not all about media profile and short teem ‘hits’ There is so much time before the next election to put in the hard work to develop realistic policies that can appeal widely to the electorate. Starmer’s managerial style will also bring some discipline to the communications and timing of announcements. I have heard some nightmare insights into the chaos of the previous Leaders office from some who were close. . I wouldn’t have trusted them under Corbyn to manage a Fantasy Football League, never mind the country. That needs to change.

Gathering a Ministerial or shadow team is not as simple as it sounds. There are numerous moving parts to fit into place. The matrix of diversity, political and regional balance as well as managing some egos all comes into play. Even deciding who to sack or leave out has consequences. Will they be more trouble to you seething in anger on the backbench or is it best to give them a role inside the tent where at least they might have to be disciplined and on message? For example the decision – from a general competence point of view – to drop Burgeon would have been easy. He has been the joke of the previous front bench for some time. But as somebody who came 3rd in the Deputy Leadership battle should he have been given a really minor role.? He will now be one of the awkward squad in the campaign Group sniping from the side lines. Its calls like this that Leaders have to make. I support him on this one. Burgeon was a daily liability to Labour’s credibility.

So it is great that at the heart of this complex matrix seems to be the suitablity of the MP to the brief! Genuis. It should be tried more often and in Government.


I can’t complete a quick summary without mentioning the Sport brief. After a decade of covering sport and physical activity in Parliament as an MP I have spent the last decade outside Parliament doing much the same. Having chaired national sporting bodies and running the http://www.sportsthinktank.com

I have followed every twist and turn of nationa sports policy making since 1998. Sport is one of those policy areas where there is less political difference than many other areas so I have managed to work with all the various Ministers and shadows over this decade to try to prevent the reinvention of the wheel and massive policy lurches. So I was pleased to see Alison McGovern appointed as the shadow Sports Minister. She brings passion and intelligence to the role. She starts from a strong understanding of parts of the sector. I will work with her as much as she wants. It’s always a tough balancing act trying to be helpful and not interfering too much! Quite rightly each Minister or Shadow wants to put their style o the role. This is one of the problems of policy making and delivery in politics- the frequency of change but that’s for another day.

The same is true of a few other policy areas. I am working with a few business leaders who are delighted we have a front bench again who get business and want to work with those of us who want to remodel the relationship of the Party to responsible businesses. Hopefully business will no longer be a dirty word again with the leadership.

Politics on Hold

The current Covid-19 crisis has meant that normal politics is now on hold. This new team needs to work out quickly how it navigates these tricky next few weeks, whilst at the same time planning to steer a path for the next 12 months and then with the eye on the 2024 election. In 2020 everything has changed. Very little of what was said or promised in 2019 is relevant any more. We will need a new economic and social model when we emerge from the current crisis. Much of what we had before is now up for debate. I am confident there are now enough serious and competent shadow ministers to find a way through this next period.

Finally, we are now heading into a tough couple of weeks. I do believe the governments handling of the crisis and the slow response to lockdown has been a contributory factor in the number of deaths. At this time there is a really diffciult balance to be struck as an opposition between not playing politics but at the same time holding the government to account. Given the 980 deaths yesterday I feel this deserves a longer post on how we do that at this delicate time.

The Full Shadow Ministerial Team

Leader: Keir Starmer

PPS: Carolyn Harris

Deputy leader, National campaign co-ordinator, party chair and Shadow First Secretary of State: Angela Rayner


Shadow Chancellor: Anneliese Dodds

Shadow Chief Secretary: Bridget Phillipson


  • Dan Carden (Financial Secretary)
  • Pat McFadden (Economic Secretary)
  • Wes Streeting (Exchequer Secretary)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Shadow Foreign Secretary: Lisa Nandy


  • Wayne David (Middle East and North Africa)
  • Stephen Doughty (Africa – joint with DFID)
  • Stephen Kinnock (Asia and Pacific)
  • Catherine West (Europe & Americas)

Home Office

Shadow Home Secretary: Nick Thomas-Symonds


  • Bambos Charalambous (Crime reduction and courts)
  • Sarah Jones (Policing and the Fire Service)
  • Holly Lynch (Immigration)
  • Conor McGinn (Security)
  • Jess Phillips (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Cabinet Office

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Rachel Reeves

Young People and Voter Engagement: Cat Smith


  • Paul Blomfield (Brexit and EU negotiations, joint with Int Trade)
  • Helen Hayes (Cabinet Office)

Ministry of Justice

Shadow Justice Secretary: David Lammy


  • Lyn Brown (Prisons and Probation)
  • Alex Cunningham (Courts and sentencing)
  • Peter Kyle (Victims and Youth Justice)
  • Karl Turner (Legal Aid)

Ministry of Defence

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence: John Healey


  • Sharon Hodgson (Veterans)
  • Stephen Morgan (Armed Forces)
  • Khalid Mahmood (Procurement)

Health and Social Care

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: Jonathan Ashworth

Mental Health: Rosena Allin-Khan


  • Liz Kendall (Social Care)
  • Justin Madders (Public Health and prevention)
  • Alex Norris (Public Health and patient safety)

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Shadow Secretary of State for BEIS: Ed Miliband


  • Chi Onwurah (Science, Research & Digital – joint with DCMS)
  • Matthew Pennycook (Climate change)
  • Lucy Powell (Business and Consumers)
  • Alan Whitehead (Green New Deal and Energy)

Work and Pensions

Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions: Jonathan Reynolds


  • Jack Dromey (Pensions)
  • Vicky Foxcroft (Disability)
  • Kate Green (Child Poverty Strategy)
  • Seema Malhotra (Employment) 

International Trade

Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade: Emily Thornberry


  • Paul Blomfield (Joint with CDL)
  • Bill Esterson
  • Gareth Thomas


Shadow Education Secretary: Rebecca Long Bailey


  • Margaret Greenwood (Schools)
  • Emma Hardy (FE & Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

Shadow Secretary of State for DCMS: Jo Stevens


  • Tracy Brabin (Cultural Industries)
  • Rachel Maskell (Voluntary Sector & Charities)
  • Chris Matheson (Media)
  • Alison McGovern (Sport)
  • Chi Onwurah (Digital, joint with BEIS)
  • Alex Sobel (Tourism & Heritage)

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Shadow DEFRA Secretary: Luke Pollard


  • Steph Peacock (Flooding)
  • Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Natural Environment & Air Quality)
  • Daniel Zeichner (Food, Farming and Fisheries)

Communities and Local Government (CLG)

Shadow CLG Secretary: Steve Reed

Shadow Housing Secretary: Thangam Debbonaire


  • Mike Amesbury (Housing and Planning)
  • Janet Daby (Faiths)
  • Kate Hollern (Local Government)
  • Naz Shah (Community Cohesion)


Shadow Transport Secretary: Jim McMahon


  • Tan Dhesi (Railways)
  • Mike Kane (Regional Transport)
  • Kerry McCarthy (Green transport and aviation)
  • Matt Rodda (Buses)

International Development (DfID)

Shadow DfID Secretary: Preet Gill


  • Stephen Doughty (Joint with FCO)
  • Anna McMorrin
  • Yasmin Qureshi

Northern Ireland

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary (interim): Louise Haigh

Ministers: Karin Smyth


Shadow Wales Secretary: Nia Griffith

Ministers: Gerald Jones


Shadow Scotland Secretary: Ian Murray

Ministers: Chris Elmore (joint with whips office)

Women & Equalities

Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary: Marsha de Cordova

Ministers: Gill Furness

Employment Rights and Protections

Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary: Andy McDonald

Ministers: Imran Hussain

Leader of the House of Commons

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons: Valerie Vaz

Deputy Leader of the House of Commons: Afzal Khan

House of Lords:

Shadow Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Smith

Lords’ Opposition Chief Whip: Lord McAvoy 

Attorney General: Lord Falconer

Solicitor General: Ellie Reeves

Whips Office

Chief Whip: Nick Brown

  • Deputy Chief Whip: Alan Campbell
  • Pairing Whip: Mark Tami
  • Senior Whip: Jessica Morde

2 Replies to “A Competent Shadow Cabinet – A Really Welcome Start!”

  1. In the in tray

    1) measured response to the current crisis including asking the right questions of the ministers
    2) seeking an extension to the withdrawal agreement.

    How well New New Labour deal with it and lead and inform the public opinion will set the tone for the next four years.

    1. Agreed on both. In a national crisis voters back their government. As things start to unravel (as they are already) people see they weren’t quite as good as they thought. Although the media seems to be playing down nearly 1000 deaths a day!

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