Keir Starmer has launched his own ‘prawn cocktail offensive’ – and it will pay off

The Labour reshuffle is a massive step forward in building credibility with the business and financial communities, writes Hamish McRae

<p>David Lammy, Sir Keir Starmer, Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves walk to the shadow cabinet meeting</p>

David Lammy, Sir Keir Starmer, Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves walk to the shadow cabinet meeting

There is, as the new shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted, “much to do”. She was referring to the need to buck up the performance of the Home Office, as discussed by my colleague John Rentoul. But there is a broader point, which is that her appointment is a massive step forward in building the credibility with the business and financial communities of a potential future Labour government. The posts within the shadow cabinet matter less than the impression of overall competence.

Sir Keir Starmer has set off on a similar journey to that taken by John Smith, the shadow chancellor and later Labour opposition leader, who sadly died in 1994 from a heart attack. Smith’s effort to assuage the concerns that a Labour government would be anti-business, involved joining with Mo Mowlam, later a cabinet minister under Tony Blair, on a round of lunches with City and business leaders. It was mocked as the “prawn cocktail offensive” by Michael Heseltine. But it worked. It showed that he would be a solid and sensible chancellor (I should acknowledge to being a great admirer). In the event, it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who benefited from his groundwork.

Labour now has Rachel Reeves in post as shadow chancellor, and the Leeds West MP is well-regarded. But the mountain Labour has to climb is such that it will need more shadow cabinet members who are comfortable in the world of finance. Having Jonathan Reynolds as shadow business secretary is fine as far as it doesn’t move the dial. Adding Yvette Cooper on the other hand clearly does. Persuading Ed Balls, the architect of much of the Blair/Brown government’s economic success, to come back into politics would really swing it.

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