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Bringing Ed Miliband back into the shadow cabinet demonstrated the “self confidence” Keir Starmer has as the new Labour leader, a prominent MP has said.
Starmer has been dubbed as “continuity Miliband” by some critics who feel he is hewn from the same “soft left” tradition of the party.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said his new leader will have been acutely aware of comparisons between Miliband and himself – but decided to disregard them when putting together his shadow cabinet this week.
He also backed Miliband to reinvent himself and revitalise his political career like William Hague, who was eventually regarded as a successful foreign secretary after a mixed spell as Tory leader.
Streeting told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast: “That [the comparison] was the obvious risk of bringing Ed Miliband back and yet Keir chose to do it.
“As well as [being] smart himself, he’s got a very smart and savvy political operation around him, and I saw that as a sign of self-confidence, actually.
“He knew exactly what the word on the street would be and how it would be seen in the Westminster village, and he’s just gone: ‘Well I want him in that job – this is what I want him to be doing.’”
Miliband has been brought in as shadow business, energy and industrial strategy alongside a host of lesser-known names such as Anneliese Dodds, the new shadow chancellor, and Nick Thomas-Symonds, the new shadow home secretary.
Streeting said Miliband had been hired for his expertise on climate change and to get media coverage, which Labour will find harder with the Tories holding an 80-seat majority.
“One of the advantages of Ed is that he does have a media cut-through as well,” Streeting said.
“So as well as bringing through fresh faces, you’ve got someone who can cut straight through and talk to people.
“When you think about other successful politicians in the past like William Hague, he had a very, very successful frontline political career and reinvention when he came back and I think we’ll see the same with Ed, actually.”
Starmer has made party unity a central early goal of his leadership following years of bitter infighting under Jeremy Corbyn.
And he put a marker down at the first meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) under his leadership, which was held virtually and attended by Corbyn and John McDonnell.
“Keir was talking about one PLP, one team, and I think that is going to be the mantra,” Streeting said.
“He is working really hard to try and build a new team spirit in the Labour Party.
“Clearly that is going to take time. We’ve all had so many rows in the last few years and you don’t just move on quickly from that kind of division, but it will be a process of rebuilding.”
The swift dismissal of Sheila Oakes, the mayor of Heanor in Derbyshire, from the party after she said Boris Johnson “deserves” coronavirus showed Starmer was serious about changing the culture in the party, Streeting said.
“The welcome thing in that case was that action was taken so swiftly by the party,” he said.
“That does seem to me to be already a sea change in how we’re responding to these sorts of things.
“Clearly one of the key things that Keir Starmer’s leadership has to bring is a change of culture in the Labour party.”