Everything went to plan. Which, in 2020, is a real turnout for the books. Sir Keir Starmer handily won the Labour leadership election with a whopping 56% of the vote. His deputy, Angela Rayner, also took home the title after a third round of counting. Pollsters the nation over sighed with relief: they’d actually got it right again. Their jobs had purpose.
So, as we look to another four years of a ruby red version of Mr. Darcy (the Bridget Jones kind, as opposed to the social python of Austen’s world), we can expect another shadow cabinet. The political classes are very excited. New faces. Old faces. Debates. Corbyn’s gone. Hurrah!
But what exactly does a shadow cabinet do? In fact, what do half of the actual cabinet do? While we fortunately have the likes of Priti Patel in charge of the police as Home Secretary, who is oh-so-keen to encourage the legalisation of public executions once more (altogether now, ‘hang him, hang him, hang him), other roles aren’t quite so clear cut. You’ve got a chief whip, for one. And there’s a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which all sounds very Game Of Thrones, but is actually one of the cloudiest jobs in government.
We should care, too. Because these people are pitching themselves as a government-in-waiting, ready to step into Downing Street, and with a sole purpose to scrutinise the Conservatives at every turn. And lest we forget: Boris and Keir’s lot claim their salary from the public purse. It pays to know what they’re up to.
Leader Of The Opposition
The Prime Minister’s job is relatively simple (unless you’re actually the one in that job, as evidenced by Theresa May who still screams during the night). Boris Johnson leads the country. He leads the government. He’s in charge.
But as Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition, it is Keir Starmer pitching himself as the next Prime Minister come election team. As Labour’s chief, he’s realistically the only alternative that could make it into Downing Street, and as such, has to position himself as the only choice for voters. That means leading the party at Prime Minister’s questions, doing lots of campaigning and taking full responsibility for the things Labour does right, and the things Labour gets wrong.
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Without a huge public profile, Anneleise Dodds is everything a shadow Chancellor (and a future Chancellor) should be: unflashy, sensible and with a background in economics and policy.
That’s because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for the UK’s entire fiscal policy and budget. Where do we spend it (or not spend it)? What does the economy look like? What do we fund and where? While a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition is a party’s orator, the Chancellor is the doer. And, with a virus-ravaged Britain still set to leave the European Union, all eyes will be on Rishi Sunak’s performance, and Dodds’ rebukes.
Shadow Foreign Secretary
A former leadership rival turned work wifey, it comes as no surprise that Lisa Nandy has scored one of the top jobs in Starmer’s shadow cabinet. The pair routinely exchanged compliments and niceties on the campaign trail, and Nandy proved herself to be one of the party’s best communicators.
A skill that will lend itself well to her new gig. The Foreign Secretary is the UK’s chief leading diplomat, and Nandy will needle sitting minister Dominic Raab at every point. What’s more, it’s a job that demands lots of speaking time on other fronts too: the Shadow Foreign Secretary is a good media stand-in for the Leader of the Opposition, and Nandy will continue to be all Wigan and northern and fiery on the telly.
Shadow Home Secretary
Priti Patel’s brief is well-known. As Home Secretary, she looks after internal affairs that include the police, immigration and citizenship. And Patel may as well be editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail when it concerns letting foreign people in.
Her new adversary in Nick Thomas-Symonds, however, is a relative unknown, and many may expect the sitting Home Secretary to eat him for breakfast. They could be proven wrong. Thomas-Symonds is known in Westminster circles as a clinical, methodical operator, and as a barrister that bases much of his argument on reason, the Torfaen MP could be a foil to Patel’s populism.
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Your confusion is palpable. And understandable. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – a role in which real life Thunderbirds puppet Michael Gove occupies – is a very cloudy job, and Starmer’s appointment of Rachel Reeves to the shadow role requires explanation.
While traditionally charged with managing the estates and rents of the Duchy of Lancaster (a private portfolio of land, property and holdings that belong to the royal family, because they’re still seemingly entitled to all that free cash), it’s a history role of seniority. Beyond the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, the Chancellor is regularly seen as a ceremonial second in command. And as a level-headed, fairly long-time Leeds MP, Reeves is a trusty Yorkshire stead who you’ll be seeing a lot more of.
The Chief Whip metaphorically (and we cannot stress the metaphorical part enough) whips the party into voting in line with Labour’s platform, or against the Conservative agenda. So, while MPs enjoy agency and free will, it’s up to the Chief Whip to exercise a certain level of discipline: if you break with the boss, you’re not much of a team player.
Nick Brown, the only one of Corbyn’s lot to keep his job, is as effective a whipper as they come (again, nobody is receiving forty actual lashings here). The Kent-born former legal adviser has represented Newcastle-upon-Tyne East for 37 years, and has been an effective Labour operator for many of those. You won’t hear much about Mr. Brown, but when Opposition MPs are all staying loyal to Starmer, you’ll know who’s responsible.