07 / 04 / 2020
This briefing considers what Keir Starmer’s leadership might mean for health and social care, providing details on the new Labour leader, his response to the COVID-19 crisis and who will make up his shadow cabinet.
On 4 April, Keir Starmer was elected the new leader of the Labour Party.
Keir won the election in the first round of voting with 56.2 per cent of Labour supporters eligible to vote, defeating leadership candidates Rebecca Long-Bailey who won 27.6 per cent and Lisa Nandy who won 16.2 per cent. The Labour Party's leadership election was triggered by the resignation of former leader Jeremy Corbyn following Labour's significant defeat at the December 2019 general election.
Having become Labour Party Leader, Keir Starmer also assumes the role of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Also announced on 4 April was the election of Angela Rayner as the Labour Party's new deputy leader. Angela won the deputy leadership election with 52.6 per cent of the vote in the third round of vote transfers.
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Prior to being elected to the House of Commons in 2015, Keir enjoyed a high-flying career as a barrister. Keir’s pitch for the Labour leadership broadly focused on the campaigning elements of his legal career, including representing striking print workers at Wapping. He became a Queen’s Counsel (QC) in 2002 and has written a number of legal textbooks.
In 2007, Keir was named 'QC of the Year' in human rights law and public law. Between 2008 and 2013, he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service and director of public prosecutions, overseeing a number of high-profile decisions, including the prosecution of the former Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Chris Huhne over lying about a speeding offence.
Keir was knighted in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List, before being elected to Westminster in 2015. During the Labour leadership election following the party’s defeat at the 2015 general election, he endorsed former health secretary and current Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham. Despite having not endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, who won the 2015 leadership election, Mr Corbyn appointed him as Shadow Minister of State for Immigration in the Shadow Home Affairs team – a role from which Keir resigned in 2016 as a protest against Mr Corbyn’s leadership. Later in 2016, Keir re-joined Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, taking up the role of shadow Brexit secretary.
With regards to the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, Keir has been advocate of a close economic relationship between the UK and the EU. He recently stated that "the argument for a customs union and single market alignment is as powerful now as it was before the election".
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Angela Rayner – who is a former social care worker and a former representative at the public services union UNISON – has stated that her political priorities are securing jobs for local people, tackling the housing crisis, improving care and public services, taking action to make work pay, and ending job insecurity.
Ms Rayner takes to the Labour Party's deputy leadership while recovering from her recent contraction of COVID-19.
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Keir promised during the leadership election – perhaps in a tactical bid for left-leaning Labour supporters – that a Labour government led by him would commit to ending outsourcing within both the NHS and in local government, arguing that “public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders”.
Keir has also pledged that a Labour government led by him would develop a set of “wellbeing indicators” that would cover areas such as health, inequality and homelessness. Such wellbeing indicators would be treated as an equal priority to economic growth.
How effectively Keir supports the NHS in his new role will largely depend on the extent to which he engages with, and seeks the views of, NHS leaders and frontline staff about the challenges facing the health service. The NHS Confederation will therefore maintain contact with Keir throughout his leadership and to offer our support in promoting the work and needs of the NHS.
As the COVID-19 crisis has developed, there has been some speculation among journalists that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may invite the Labour leadership under Keir into a temporary, multi-party “national government”, similar to those which were established in Britain during major crises of the 20th century. Hours before receiving his first secret briefing on the COVID-19 crisis on 5 April from senior government officials, Keir did not rule out such a national government, stating that he would not offer to join a Johnson-led administration "at the moment".
Nonetheless, a multi-party government remains improbable and it is more likely that Keir will lead the Labour Party in holding the government to account by challenging the decisions that have been, and are being, made. Yet as the outbreak continues, Keir’s decisions on when, how often, and how severely to criticise the government will require delicate political judgment. While Keir has expressed a willingness to work constructively with the government, he has also referred to “serious mistakes” in the government’s handling of the crisis.
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Having taken the reins as Labour Leader, Keir has made changes to the shadow cabinet that he has inherited from Mr Corbyn.
While shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth remains in post, Sir Keir has made a change to Labour’s shadow health team. Barbara Keeley (who had been the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care since 2016) has been removed from her post. Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (who is currently treating patients in the NHS as an emergency department doctor) has been appointed Shadow Minister for Mental Health.
Other key shadow cabinet changes include:
- Annelise Dodds replacing John McDonnell as shadow Chancellor
- Nick Thomas-Symonds replacing Diane Abbot as shadow home secretary
- Lisa Nandy succeeding Emily Thornberry as shadow foreign secretary.
The external affairs team will continue to keep you updated on the big political events and what they mean for you and the NHS. For any media, political or communication enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact the external affairs team at Externalaffairs@nhsconfed.org