Has Rachel Reeves replaced Angela Rayner as Starmer’s de facto number two?

When Labour chief Sir Keir Starmer touched down in snowy Davos this January, able to schmooze enterprise leaders within the Swiss Alps, he didn’t disembark alone. As an alternative, the Labour chief attended the annual celebration of worldwide capital flanked by his shadow chancellor and trusty treasury sidekick, Rachel Reeves. 

Reeves and Starmer’s Davos double-act was an extra sign of the pair’s political affinity, with the 2 seemingly glued collectively as Labour hones its election pitch. Certainly, the nearer British politics edges to 2024, the extra inseparable Reeves and Starmer seem.

The ever-hardening duopoly is cast initially by Starmer’s need to rebrand Labour as economically credible and sound on finance — adapting to the political incentives supplied by post-Trussonomics politics. It’s in all probability little shock that the previous Financial institution of England economist has assumed a frontline place in Labour’s externally branded “Prawn Cocktail Offensive 2.0”. The push additionally seems to be yielding outcomes, with Reeves claiming to have spoken to tons of of CEOs since changing into shadow chancellor in 2021. 

However Labour’s new favorite double-act naturally begs the query of deputy chief Angela Rayner, formally Starmer’s quantity two. Whereas Reeves has assumed front-and-centre positioning in Starmer’s latest coverage bulletins and enterprise soirées, Rayner has been largely diminished to interventions on the commons dispatch field, shadowing the work of Sunak confidant Oliver Dowden. 


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It is likely one of the merciless guidelines of opposition politics, with time within the highlight so coveted, that the rise of 1 spokesperson virtually at all times ends in an equal and reverse decline in one other. One thing related seems to be taking part in out right here. 

In fact, Reeves’ irresistible rise to the highest of the Labour Social gathering hierarchy is a minimum of partly creditable to the regular stream of fiscal occasions Britain has skilled in latest months. As shadow chancellor, a place she has held for lower than two years, Reeves has jostled with 4 treasury chiefs over financial coverage, taking them to job over budgets each “mini” and enormous. 

Evidently, Labour officers have been impressed. Within the 2022 Spring Assertion, Reeves poured scorn on then-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s financial proposals. She accused the then-chancellor of dwelling in “Sunakland” the place a perception in decrease taxes truly interprets right into a hike in nationwide insurance coverage contributions. “Curiouser and curiouser”, the shadow chancellor continued. 

However it’s because the fallout from the mini-budget in September, that Reeves’ profile has seen probably the most vital enhance. Sir Keir is aware of that his shadow chancellor’s stolidity within the face of the Conservative authorities’s frequent fiscal do-overs presents Labour with the proper optics. Reeves continued presence, reverse 4 separate chancellors, creates a way of political continuity and coverage dependability. 

Crucially, the nice optics are coupled with Reeves’ spectacular CV, from which enterprise leaders can solely infer monetary shrewdness. The shadow chancellor is a former economist who has labored variously on the Financial institution of England and the British embassy in Washington. It’s hardly the background of somebody companies may concern. 

Moreover, like Starmer, Reeves presents as severe, on message and predictable. She is neither too depressing nor too gleeful in regards to the state of nation, and her speeches reveal a person inclined to monetary reform somewhat than massive spending. It’s finally little shock that Reeves and Starmer have cast such an affinity. 

Then there’s Angela Rayner, the get together’s deputy chief and subsequently Starmer’s nominal quantity two. The place Starmer sees Reeves as predictable and moderating, Rayner’s fame is that of a direct politician whose efficient communication can at instances appeal to unhealthy headlines. It’s an method that comes with potential issues for the risk-averse Starmer as we noticed throughout the 2021 convention season, when Rayner labelled the Conservative get together as “scum” at an occasion. It was embarrassing for Starmer, who pointedly affirmed that he wouldn’t have used such language.

Potential strains within the Rayner-Starmer relationship additionally burst forth within the 2021 shadow cupboard reshuffle, which noticed the Labour chief make a botched try to demote his deputy, then get together chair. Rayner’s affiliation with the Corbynite ancien régime had been blamed by Starmer allies for the lack of the Hartlepool by-election to the Conservatives, however the ensuing briefing conflict between the 2 workplaces finally noticed Rayner’s place strengthened. Reasonably than a demotion, Rayner emerged with a considerably beefed-up position as shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster position in addition to a newly created submit as shadow secretary for the way forward for work. The episode underlined that Rayner nonetheless has a big help base within the get together which, coupled along with her elected place as deputy chief, makes her primarily unsackable. 

In fact, this isn’t the primary time a Labour chief and deputy chief haven’t completely seen eye-to-eye. The earlier iteration of the Labour get together management underneath Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy Tom Watson was believed to be deeply fractious. Each Watson and Corbyn had giant help bases within the get together, however they drew on very completely different political traditions and their enchantment amongst MPs and the grassroots usually conflicted. Splits emerged on a number of events, significantly on the issues of Brexit and the dealing with of anti-semitism. Watson later revealed that he had voted for the management challenger Owen Smith in 2016 regardless of his place as deputy chief.

However perceived political variations between a frontrunner and deputy chief needn’t create such issue. One pertinent case research is that of Tony Blair and John Prescott, who collectively held the highest two positions within the Labour Social gathering from 1994-2007. On the floor, Prescott and Blair couldn’t have been extra completely different. One was an older union-firebrand and the opposite was a younger get together moderniser. However Blair refused to see Prescott as a legal responsibility, as an alternative utilizing his strengths and ties to “previous Labour” traditions as root for New Labour inside the get together — giving Blair’s rebrand essential credibility.

In fact, the political contexts have modified considerably because the early 2000s with the connection between overlapping Labour factions now way more sophisticated than that of “previous” and “new” Labour. However, like Prescott, Rayner could start to be considered by Starmer as asset in her personal proper — along with her explosive government-bashing abilities exploited within the commons and different contributions contained inside boundaries set by the management.

Ultimately, the brand new dynamics on the prime of the Labour get together in all probability have extra to Reeves’ perceived strengths than Rayner’s perceived weaknesses. The shadow chancellor is central to what makes Starmerism tick — it’s metropolitan, moderating, business-friendly and reliable — it sees financial credibility as central to a successful pitch. In Reeves’ political profile subsequently, Starmer has stumbled upon a significantly adept sidekick. 

It’s her CV, the subtext of which is Starmerism distilled, that has foisted Reeves into Labour’s the de facto quantity two spot.