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Is Rachel Reeves Labour's Real “Right-Hand Woman”?

Updated: Apr 23

Whilst Angela Rayner may be the elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, in theory, Sir Keir Starmer ‘number 2’, in recent months, has been the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves. This has been indicated by Reeves accompanying Sir Keir to high-profile events and sharing the platform  between them. 


Reeves and Rayner are both part of Starmer’s “top team”, however, they come from very different political backgrounds. Reeves, a former Bank of England economist and seasoned backbencher was elected to Parliament in 2010, and sits firmly in the centrist camp of the Labour Party. Rayner on the other hand, who left school at 16 without any qualifications, took much more of an “outsider” approach to politics, becoming a member of UNISON, before entering politics in 2015, and by 2019, becoming a key member of the “Corbyn Project.” 


Both sit in Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, and have managed to, at least on the face of it, work relatively well together. However, I would argue that the proclaimed unity of these two senior figures in the Labour Party will soon begin to waver if Labour wins in the upcoming election. The central area of tension is over who is higher up in the party leadership, and whilst Rayner is Deputy Leader, Reeves’ role as Shadow Chancellor puts her squarely at the centre of most, if not all Labour Party policy. So, whilst Rayner holds power by right of the office she holds, Reeves’ power, arguably, comes from the multiple other areas of policy that are dependent on her brief shadowing the Treasury.


Another way we can see this tension is through party imagery. Take LinkedIn for example, where both Sir Keir and Reeves share the same imagery; the two of them, smiling together, suggesting a close working relationship, similar to that of Blair and Brown. Whereas Rayner, who doesn’t use LinkedIn, merely has herself featuring in most imagery on her X account. Whilst this might just be coincidence, the use of imagery in politics is crucial to gaining support. Perhaps, this placement of Reeves, as being a closer ally for Starmer than Rayner, is a political act – I would argue it is.


This is not the first time this has happened in the Labour Party; most leadership elections see a clash between the leadership and deputy leadership. Blair and Prescott, Miliband and Harman, Corbyn and Watson - all are recent examples of the apparent ideological clash that can occur in Labour leadership elections. It is therefore usually the case that party leaders seek to appoint another senior figure to shore up power in the upper echelons of leadership. For Blair, it was Brown and Mandelson, for Miliband it was Ed Balls, and for Corbyn it was Abbott and McDonnell. In these cases, Labour leaders have been able to use these figures as effective deputies, whilst still maintaining a relationship with their deputies, albeit to varying degrees of cooperation.


The question with the current leadership is; will the apparent “friendly triumvirate" of Starmer, Reeves and Rayner continue? Arguably, All three are from different wings of the party, with Starmer serving as the lynchpin between Reeves and Rayner. However, whether this relationship will hold is one for the future. All current evidence leads to the conclusion that Rayner will likely become a mere straw doll, a dead remnant of the old Labour guard, useful to unifying the party and claim cohesion, but easily alienated when necessary by figures more aligned with Starmer on governmental policy, such as Reeves, David Lammy and Pat McFadden, an acolyte of the New Labour project. 


Whatever role Angela Rayner holds if Labour win this year, it is certain that her likely title of “Deputy Prime Minister” will be greatly overshadowed by her colleague at the Treasury.

Image: The Labour Party

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