Starmer tells new-look shadow cabinet to show public they are ready to govern

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there could be no complacency ahead of the general election and things would get harder as polling day approaches.

David Hughes
Tuesday 05 September 2023 10:34 BST
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during the first meeting of his new Shadow Cabinet in central London. Picture date: Tuesday September 5, 2023.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during the first meeting of his new Shadow Cabinet in central London. Picture date: Tuesday September 5, 2023. (PA Wire)

Sir Keir Starmer said his new-look shadow cabinet had been chosen for their “hunger” in the lead-up to the next general election.

The Labour leader said they faced an “important and crucial” political period, with by-elections, party conferences, the King’s speech and an autumn statement in the coming months.

He said Labour needed to use its conference in October to “show that we are ready as a party” and “have the answers the country so desperately needs”.

Following the shake-up of his top team, which saw centrists promoted at the expense of some on the soft left, Sir Keir said: “You are around this table because of four things: your talent, your commitment, your hunger – really, really important – and because I wanted a team that wakes up every morning determined to rise to the challenges that our country faces and determined to improve our country for the better.”

An extended shadow cabinet meeting was expected to discuss plans for the conference, the upcoming Rutherglen and Hamilton West and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections, polling and the general election campaign.

The gathering, at Westminster’s Church House, saw Hilary Benn, Ellie Reeves, Darren Jones and Liz Kendall take their places at the shadow cabinet table.

Veteran Mr Benn returned to the top team as shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Ms Reeves became deputy national campaign co-ordinator, Mr Jones takes his first frontbench role as shadow chief secretary, while former leadership contender Ms Kendall has become shadow work and pensions secretary.

Sir Keir said the party had made “real progress” but there was “a long, long way to go”.

He told his top team there could be “absolutely no complacency”.

“It’s a long, long road from where we landed in 2019 to being in the privileged position – and it is a privileged position – to form the next Labour government, and not a single vote has been cast.

“Whatever anyone says or any polls say, not a single vote has been cast in the next general election, and every single vote has to be earned.”

He warned that “things get harder, always, towards the end of a race” but “we must keep our eyes on the prize”.

“We have changed our party with purpose, which is to put us in a position to change our country for the better,” he said. “We’re not doing it for the Labour Party, we’re doing it for the country.

“And today, when we say that, what we have in our mind’s eye is the children that aren’t at school today, the people on the waiting list today and the people struggling to pay their bills. That’s what we’re doing it for, that’s the prize, and I look forward to working with all of you on that journey.”

The shadow cabinet meeting was also an opportunity for Sir Keir to introduce Sue Gray as his new chief of staff.

The former top civil servant, who led the Whitehall inquiry into the partygate scandal, was cleared to join Labour after a six-month delay recommended by by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

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