Angela Rayner Outlines Labour's Plan To "Clean Up Politics". Credit: Leon Neal via Getty Images
Artillery Row Sketch

I Am Drama, says Starmer

“Here, have Yvette Cooper,” said 2008

“I‘m not aware of any plans for a reshuffle,” Labour’s Angela Rayner told Times Radio on Monday morning, setting up a day that, inevitably, included a Labour reshuffle. “I haven’t been consulted on that. I don’t think there’s any focus on that.” 

Would she expect to be told if there were going to be one? “I reckon that Keir would tell me first, yeah,” she replied. 


What to make of so calculated a snub as the one that followed? Sometimes we hacks are accused of finding division where none exists, but, good grief, what else are we to make of it when, at the precise moment that Rayner began her big, much trailed speech that morning, the news dropped that Keir Starmer was kicking off a round of shadow cabinet blood-letting?

Who knew, frankly, that Starmer was so interesting?

One can only guess at the levels of mutual loathing that must be sloshing around the senior levels of the Labour party that this kind of behaviour might seem reasonable. Rayner’s position as deputy leader is in the party’s constitution. Starmer is stuck with her. And yet he very deliberately chose the moment of her big speech to begin clearing out his top team, making appointments without any reference to her. 

Who knew Starmer was capable of such ruthlessness? Or such incredible creative vindictiveness? Who knew, frankly, that he was so interesting? He seemed, let’s be honest, like a quiet man who kept himself to himself, and now it turns out he has the dismembered bodies of several members of the shadow cabinet under his floorboards.

Exactly how many bodies is something that, at the time of writing, was only just becoming clear. This is partly because the reshuffle took so long that one began to suspect Starmer was squeezing it in around other jobs, sacking spokespeople while regrouting his bathroom or clearing his gutters. But it is mainly because no one had any idea who was actually in the Shadow Cabinet. It had grown over the years, with several members “shadowing” departments that don’t actually exist. 

So, as the news very slowly leaked out, it tended to come in the form of a triple-take, where we learned first that Steve McDichael had lost the Future of Children’s Workspaces brief, second that he had, until very recently, held it, and third that it existed at all.

But back to Rayner’s big speech. “Nobody could have predicted the corruption and shamelessness of Boris Johnson,” she began, in defiance of the quite large numbers of people, several of them in the room, who had regularly and loudly done exactly that.

Her argument was that the prime minister’s contempt for the usual conventions of decency meant that tighter scrutiny needed to be brought in to ensure that members of the government behaved themselves. This is probably true, although also rather sad. One day, Conservative MPs may come to wonder why it was decided that they could no longer be relied on to act honourably without someone standing over them. 

When tidying our desks, we are astonished to learn how many USB cables we own. Starmer seems to have had this problem with shadow ministers. 

Rayner is the right person to deliver this message, a woman whose horror at MPs “lining their pockets with a thousand pound an hour” is entirely unfeigned. “Public servants,” she said, “should serve the public without an eye on a cushty lobbying gig as soon as they leave.” When MPs try to explain the reasonableness of their outside earnings, they should keep in mind how very far these discussions are from the lives of almost everyone else. 

But even as Rayner was speaking, the word was coming in that Cat Smith had gone. Amazing! Who now would shadow the Department of Young People and Democracy, holding the Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy to account at Young People and Democracy Questions? 

It turned out the answer was “no one”. In this respect was partly a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle and partly a Shadow Cabinet tidy-up. Some of us, when tidying our desks, are astonished to learn how many USB cables we own. Starmer seems to have had this problem with shadow ministers. 

Still, by now Rayner had been fairly and squarely undermined. When it came to questions, she had to admit that she didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on. There had been a phone call, apparently, but it wasn’t clear what she’d been told. It all sounds very passive aggressive, if without much passivity. Her speech had been completely overtaken, an attempt to draw attention to government sleaze replaced with a story about Labour splits. 

Will Rayner’s kneecapping bring her into line, or will she wait and take her revenge? All we know at this point is that if Starmer was as good at attacking the government as he is at sabotaging his deputy, Johnson might be in real trouble.

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