I love a reshuffle – and Labour’s new cabinet has me feeling more confident about the future
From coronavirus to dealing with antisemitism, I believe the party is now in a stronger position – now we need to show people we can lead
I love a reshuffle. I get that it is a niche love. Politics fans on Twitter would be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the country is following the progress of a new cabinet or shadow cabinet with bated breath, alas I fear they are not.
I have to say I loved the latest Labour Party reshuffle more than usual, most likely because it was a welcome glimmer of normality in a world of coronavirus-induced strangeness and sadness. It reminded me of bygone times that with every passing day seem further and further away.
I also loved it because it felt like renewal, I was sat watching it play out in my sunny garden surrounded by new shoots and fresh leaves. Labour not only needs to desperately turn over new leaf, but to grow a whole new tree. We must win 124 seats just to get a majority of one at the next election and if I were to take the metaphor even further we need a root and branch approach (I may have been on way too many strategy-based conference calls!).
Some of those in the list I punched the air at. Lisa Nandy, Anneliese Dodds and Rachel Reeves, filled me with particular glee. Top positions for top women is kind of my thing. I cannot wait to see David Lammy at the despatch box again and some of my dearest friends in the Commons were on that list.
Within hours of the shadow cabinet list being announced, two of the people on the list were in touch asking about the current coronavirus issues facing victims of violence and abuse and I felt delighted that this would be an era where we would be all pulling together for the greater good.
Within the first four hours of the new regime I felt more confident about the issues of antisemitism in the party being dealt with than had felt in the last four years. Now is not a time to rest on that laurel but to surge forward with the deeds to match. I say with some confidence now that that will happen.
It is always hard to assert yourself as the shadow anything, but in these times of crisis I think that it could both be the most difficult task as well as the most fruitful. The list of the new shadow cabinet presents, by and large, a thoughtful group of people who I have no doubt will manage the current job well. This is not a time for landing punches but for robust critique.
The tricky job for the party comes after, and there is no way of knowing what the legacy of this crisis will actually be. Surely the government are not just going to decant homeless people currently housed back to their doorways and cardboard beds in Westminster Station. Surely the national outpouring of love and concern for our public sector workers won’t just be met with more business as usual.
Transitioning back from cordial critique to the knockabout of politics will have to be managed with deft care. I think the best way that this can be done is outside of Westminster with a really good strategy of communicating with the public about what they want to see from a government and how we can be that. We should end the idea that people in Bassetlaw want fundamentally different things from the people in Brighton and offer a positive – and dare I say it cheerful – outlook. The country has been in desperate need of cheer for some time, that need has become critical.
The global pandemic will change everything. It will unite and change the country is ways we cannot yet see. The Labour Party must respond to that and be the kind of alternative government that proves beyond doubt that it could be not just trusted in a crisis but would be a better alternative. As I sat in my garden on a sunny weekend, I saw the first green shoots shuffle their way in to place.
Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley