• Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

How should Labour respond to the cabinet reshuffle?

ByAbigail King

Dec 3, 2023
Rishi Sunak sat at a table with other members of cabinet

Sunak has shaken up his cabinet of goonies, sacking one of the four horses of the apocalypse only to
replace it with another. But what can Starmer and his band of merry men do to capitalise on this?

Outside the Conservative party, this seems a disillusioned attempt to save a sinking ship. But Sunak
seems to have reordered his troops to regain support from traditional Tory supporters, many of
whom were pushed to the limit by party-gate and Cruella Braverman’s tyrannical tenure.

Bringing back Cameron may have made Sunak vulnerable to jeers from the opposition, but it’s a
savvy move to unite a fractured Tory party, and bring back those on the brink of secretly defecting at
the next election. For the home-county, centre-right, bread-and-butter Tory base, bringing back
their Eton-Oxford-Bullingdon poster boy, with a respectable haircut and no shaggy blonde hair or
mistresses in sight, will have restored some stability in their eyes. As will the appointment of socially-
conservative Esther McVey, who’s “family first” rhetoric will appeal to the traditional party base,
who’s values Johnson trampled over.

For Labour, the danger here is that this will mobilise the lukewarm right of the party, many of whom
might have privately jumped ship at the ballot box. There’s also a risk that it will appeal to some of
the more socially conservative in red wall seats, which are the sort of places Labour needs to do well
in at the next election. By bringing back Cameron, such a prominent remainer who’s name is rarely
mentioned without the word “Brexit” following it somewhere, it also suggests that Sunak is aiming
not to fight the next election over the B word. With the likes of Cameron and McVey back, I fear he’s
shifting to make this about values, class and woke-culture – something McVey has passionately
campaigned against, and something Sunak might be betting will split the electorate on.

From Sunak’s perspective, this moment is one of relief. He has finally been able to reshape the
cabinet as he wants, not as he needs. One example of this is creating the Department for Energy
Security and Net Zero, but as Labour’s been quick to point out: this is just rehashing an old idea,
previously scrapped by Theresa May. It would help if Starmer made more of a point that it’s now
being run by Grant Schnapps, which has given him his third ministerial position in four months. Can
you really take him, or the new department, seriously? Sunak has given a vague idea that it will help
provide cheap, clean energy. Starmer needs to step up and give a clearer plan of how this can

One reaction is that the best thing Starmer can do in the wake of this reshuffle is not to criticise the
shake up itself, but ask why the British public should be content with a plaster on a wound when the
whole leg needs to be amputated. We don’t need a new cabinet, we need a new government. But I
think this in itself, without any other “meatier” points of criticism, would be complacent of Starmer.
This would mean Labour, yet again, resting on the laurels of Conservative negligence. Labour needs
to stop riding the coat tails of the Tory’s failings, and step up and challenge them with better policy
and stronger ideas.

Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak Spring Statement” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Abigail King

Opinion Editor