POLITICS
23/09/2021 11:27 BST | Updated 23/09/2021 13:14 BST

Fears Of 'Two-Tier' Shadow Cabinet As Private Donors Bankroll Labour MPs

As the party cuts back on staff, ambitious frontbenchers are looking for ways to fund their own offices ahead of any leadership contest.

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Some MPs believe Keir Starmer may reshuffle his shadow cabinet after party conference.

Concerns have been raised that a “two-tier” shadow cabinet could emerge within Labour as prominent members side-step the party’s cost-cutting drive by raising their own private funds.

Parliament’s register of member’s financial interests shows a handful of high-profile members of the shadow cabinet have been amassing their own income  through speaking engagements, book deals and donations over the past year.

While there is no imminent threat of a looming leadership challenge against Keir Starmer, there are suggestions that some could be funding their own separate offices for future leadership potential.

Those who have been active in generating their own income include shadow justice secretary David Lammy, whose speaking engagements earned him about £67,000 from August 2020 to July 2021, and Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow child poverty secretary, who received four private donations totalling £45,000 this year.

One Labour source told HuffPost UK concerns had been raised that some frontbenchers are looking to “staff up” to compensate for potential team losses in the party’s redundancy programme.

“What will potentially be happening is anybody who’s got the means to do that is going to staff up - it’s almost going to be hard for the party to manage it,” they said.

“The chatter is that people are stacking up their leadership or mayoral bids.

“There will almost be a two-tier shadow cabinet for people who have got those contacts and those who don’t. It’s not just that you’ve got people who are loyal to you and do your bidding, you’ve got people who can get you on telly.”

The Labour party is currently in the process of conducting its voluntary redundancy programme in a bid to recoup millions of pounds spent on fighting three general elections, lengthy legal battles and a dip in membership following Starmer’s takeover.

So far it has accepted 81 voluntary redundancies.

Two sources told HuffPost it was likely that the number of political advisers serving the frontbench would be cut, but it was not yet clear on what basis.

In contrast to the likes of Lammy and Streeting, some shadow cabinet members have received very little by way of donations. 

So far, deputy leader Angela Rayner has received no donations while shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has received only small sums from the Communication Workers’ Union and for signing a book contract. However, when they last ran for leader, both received major union backing.

By contrast, shadow education secretary Kate Green received no donations and neither did shadow defence secretary John Healey.

The issue of leadership has come to the fore following Starmer’s proposal to replace the one member, one vote (OMOV) system with a return to the electoral college made up of the unions and affiliate organisations, MPs and party members.

According to the financial register, Streeting received four private donations from March to August this year.

Two, totalling £15,000, were from Labour donor Anthony Watson. He also received £20,000 from philanthropist Francesca Perrin and £10,000 Lord Waheed Alli.

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves took £25,000 from Victor Blank to pay a parliamentary staff member, £25,370 from Trevor Chinn for research and writing services, £13,520 from Labour Together and £10,000 from Richard Flint.

However, sources suggested that Reeves has set her sights on being the first female chancellor.

Jess Phillips, who ran against Starmer for the leadership following the party’s 2019 general election defeat, raised around £74,000 publishing deals, newspaper columns and speaking events.

The Labour source said that while Starmer was “safe for now”, people were already “eyeing up the job” - a development that could provide a flashpoint of tension at the Labour party conference in Brighton this weekend.

“I don’t think you’ll speak to many people who think we are going to win the next election,” the Labour source said.

“I think the constant state of flux over the past few years has just led some people to think to get ready just in case.

“People are talking about the Wes Streeting leadership roadshow and whether Keir’s office realise it’s happening and don’t care or don’t see that it’s happening.

“He’s basically mid campaign now even though there is no contest. He is everywhere, doing everything. He’s trying to do rounds of union delegation dinners. He looks to be the runner for the right at the moment.”

Streeting is widely tipped as a future leader by some MPs who say he wants to be prime minister. 

“He should be giving a speech at conference and will be one to watch,” said one.

“Wes was very outspoken in the Corbyn years which will do him favours with the electorate but not the party membership.”

Some MPs are also expecting Starmer to reshuffle his shadow cabinet after the conference is over.

Another source said Streeting was well liked within the party and seen as a team player. He recently held a drinks reception to celebrate his recovery from cancer, which he had paid for. 

“It must have cost a bomb and it could be seen as him endearing himself to colleagues. But Wes does it in a way that doesn’t offend people. I think Keir feels he is an asset at the moment.”

A spokesperson for Streeting said: “Like all other MPs, Wes publishes his donations on the register of members’ interests, openly and transparently.

“Donations support his work on the frontbench and delivering the best service to his constituents.”

It is not only members of the frontbench who are bolstering their war chests.

Yvette Cooper, who ran for the Labour leadership in 2015 and now chairs the influential home affairs select committee, received over £73,000 from four donations from private firm MPM Connect.

The same company gifted Dan Jarvis - who has announced he will stand down as South Yorkshire mayor next year - £25,000.

Jarvis told HuffPost UK:  “Every day that I have spent in politics – as an MP and as a mayor – has been made so much harder because we’ve had a Tory government that doesn’t care about communities like ours.

“We need a Labour government. I’ll be doing all I can to support Keir to make that happen.

“The donations come from a lifelong Labour party supporter. The money is used to support my office and work as an MP.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who does not sit as an MP, has also refused to rule out running for leader and has challenged Starmer to come up with a plan for social care following the Tories’ decision to raise national insurance by 1.25 percentage points.

Phillips, Reeves, Lammy and Cooper were also approached for comment.