Long stories short
- Officials said Kim Jong-un would meet Putin in Russia to talk about arms sales.
- Camper vans leaving Burning Man 2023 formed a temporary ten-lane highway across the Black Rock Desert.
- The Apostrophe Protection Society has dropped its complaint against Waterstones.
Sir Keir Starmer reshuffled his leadership team yesterday for what will probably be the last time before they take control – they hope – of Britain’s government.
Angela Rayner was put in charge of levelling up. Lisa Nandy was demoted. Steve Reed, an ex-South London councillor, was handed the environment brief. He will be tasked with giving the Conservatives hell on sewage.
So what? Little else happened that will be discussed outside the M25, and that’s the point.
- Haunted by history, Starmer’s overwhelming priority is to project an image of competence and stability to reassure centrists and the City and win back the Red Wall defectors who gave Boris Johnson his majority in 2019.
- To that end, he made no changes to his front bench. He promoted Blairites to key junior posts and sidelined even the soft Left. That was the significance of Nandy’s demotion to the international development brief in a team she once led.
- It was all accomplished “quickly, slickly, ruthlessly,” one insider told the Guardian, in a phone call from the House of Commons designed to enhance Starmer’s authority and position him bang in the middle of British politics.
If it ain’t broke… The less-is-more strategy is working. Left to themselves, the Conservatives have spent the last seven years vacating the centre ground and the last seven days turning what might have been a routine infrastructure update into a full-blown political scandal rocket-fuelled by the education secretary’s verbal incontinence.
On that… Gillian Keegan apologised yesterday after losing it in an accidentally-on-purpose way after her umpteenth interview on dangerous Raac concrete in English schools. She claimed to have done a “good fucking job” while others were “sat on their arses”, and is now having to defend herself for taking a weekend off mid-crisis, possibly in Spain.
Timeline of temptations. Starmer will be delighted. The more time the Tories spend creating chaos, the more he can spend learning from Labour history:
- 1992 – Days before an election pollsters said he could win, Neil Kinnock told his team triumphantly to prepare for government. “We’re all right,” he told a Sheffield rally. A week later John Major secured more votes than Margaret Thatcher won in any of her three victories.
- 2005 – the last year in which Labour won a general election
- 2015 – Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn as its leader in a forlorn bet that pure socialism could conjure victory from a wave of previously disenfranchised voters.
- 2016 – Corbyn sits out the EU referendum, which replaces old left-right debates with leave-remain rancour for most of the next seven years.
Starmer’s response to that history has been to drag one of the great engines of European social democracy steadily back to the middle ground, where he looks more likely to win than Kinnock ever did. This project has not been without ironies:
- Brexit’s failure has transformed politics on his watch, mostly in his favour, but Starmer enforces a total ban on talk of reversing it.
- He wasn’t elected leader as an apostle of Blairite New Labour, but New Labour is back in force. As one MP tells the Times’ Patrick Maguire: “Even Tony Blair didn’t have this many Blairites in his cabinet.”
Team Starmer now has four members who served under Blair or Gordon Brown and three Blairite former special advisors, chief among them Pat McFadden, Blair’s former political secretary. He will run Labour’s election campaign.
Others to watch:
Darren Jones, 36, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, will have to work out how to pay for increased spending on defence as well as health and pensions while keeping Starmer’s promise not to raise income tax.
Thangam Debbonaire, 57, shadow culture secretary, will know whereof she speaks. (Long) before resigning from the same role rather than serve under Corbyn, she played the cello for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Vuk Valcic/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty Images
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