Keir Starmer hailed having the ‘strongest team on the pitch’ today after he used a pre-election reshuffle to put New Labour veterans in key jobs today.
Deputy leader Ms Rayner emerged as one of the winners from the shake-up, despite an at-times tense relationship with Sir Keir.
She agreed to be moved from her Cabinet Office beat, but crucially was also formally lined up to become deputy PM should Labour win power.
And the wider story of the overhaul was of moderates taking key positions. There was a surprise comeback for former Cabinet minister Hilary Benn, who has been made shadow Northern Ireland secretary.
Fellow centrist Liz Kendall has also been pushed up to the top rank as shadow work and pensions secretary, while another figure from Blair and Brown days, Pat McFadden, takes the key job of election campaigns coordinator.
John McTernan, who was a key aide to Mr Blair, pointed out there are five special advisers from that era in the shadow cabinet.
Rising star Shabana Mahmood was elevated to the justice brief. And the highly-rated Darren Jones joins as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, having previously been chairing the Commons business committee.
However, there was worse news for Lisa Nandy who was been effectively demoted from Levelling Up to shadow international development secretary – a post that has no equivalent in government.
Jonathan Ashworth also seems to have suffered a setback, going from work and pensions to shadow paymaster general – although sources stressed he is still a full shadow cabinet member and will ‘play a big role in the general election campaign’. Allies said he will be ‘shadow minister for the Today programme’.
Although Ms Rayner cannot be removed as deputy leader – as she was directly elected by the party – allies had been warning against any bid to sideline her.
Keir Starmer reshuffled his top team today as he prepares for the election battle
Angela Rayner (pictured) will take the Levelling Up post from Lisa Nandy, which includes the key issue of housing
Former Cabinet minister Hilary Benn has made a return to the political front line
Liz Kendal, from the Blairite wing of the party, has also been brought back by Sir Keir
The overhaul comes as Parliament returns from its summer recess and Sir Keir’s new chief of staff Sue Gray starts work.It is already looking more dramatic than the ‘mini-shuffle’ conducted by Rishi Sunak last week, when he installed Grant Shapps as Defence Secretary after the departure of Ben Wallace.
A Labour source said Sir Keir Starmer had given Angela Rayner an ‘important role’ in his team.
‘Keir is delighted that Angela has accepted this important role, in addition she will continue to be the strategic lead on Labour’s new deal for working people,’ the source said.
Sir Keir did not make radical changes to the biggest jobs, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper safe.
Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband’s position also remains intact despite persistent briefing that he was at risk.
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire has moved to shadow secretary for culture, media and sport.
Meanwhile, Peter Kyle has shifted from the Northern Ireland brief to cover science.
Steve Reed has been shifted from Justice to replace shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon, who is standing down for personal reasons.
Mr McFadden, a New Labour minister, becomes shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and National Campaign Coordinator.
Sir Keir said his changes meant Labour have the ‘strongest possible players on the pitch’ ahead of the election.
He told broadcasters: ‘This reshuffle answers a central question which is, I think that Britain deserves a government that wakes up every morning absolutely determined to solve the challenges we have and to take our country forward.
‘We need that as soon as possible.
‘I’m really pleased that, having changed the Labour Party, we are now in position to put our top team on the table, to show it to the country.
‘I’m delighted that we’ve got such a strong team on the pitch now.’
Asked about the appointment of more Blairites to the shadow cabinet, Sir Keir said: ‘I think what is important is to recognise that with this reshuffle, we now have the strongest possible players on the pitch for what is going to be a crucial part of the journey.’
The Opposition leader said he had been looking to appoint ‘really good, talented people’ and those ‘hungry, determined to change our country for the better’.
Partygate investigator Ms Gray, who controversially left the civil service to become Sir Keir’s chief of staff, formally took on her new role today.
The former mandarin had waited for the end of a six-month cooling off period after exiting Whitehall.
With Labour enjoying consistent double-digit poll leads, Ms Gray is being tasked with preparing to implement flagship policies in government.
As tensions surfaced over the reshuffle rumours at the weekend, one Rayner ally told The Sun On Sunday: ‘Some people are out to put her back in her box.’
They added: ‘They might try to strike us down and find us more powerful than before.’
Some expect the Prime Minister to carry out a wider Government reshuffle in the coming months.
It comes as both leaders gear up for annual party conference season in October and look to getting their top teams in shape for the next general election.
Ms Nandy has been effectively demoted to shadow international development secretary – a post that has no equivalent in government
With Labour enjoying consistent double-digit poll leads, new chief of staff Sue Gray is being tasked with preparing to implement flagship policies in government
Partygate investigator Sue Gray, who controversially left the civil service to become Sir Keir’s chief of staff, formally started her new role today
All eyes will be on the fate of Ms Rayner, with whom Sir Keir has sometimes had a fraught relationship (pictured together campaigning in Selby)
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