n a tight corner, with few real options open to them and wanting to be seen to “do something” about a bout of unpopularity, political leaders, in government and in opposition, often take the option of “refreshing” their frontbench team. For a prime minister it at least has the advantage that it can be spun as an act of decisive leadership (even though it is more likely to be blind panic), and the new incumbents will at least be in power and in a position to make some real changes. Few, of any, cabinet reshuffles have transformed the fortunes of any government, except perhaps at the margin and offering the gossips some material for profiles of “the next prime minister”.
An opposition leader has not even those scant benefits to look to, and the speculation about changes can destabilise an already pressurised team. So it is with the position of the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds. She set out on Sunday for a five-mile run in support of the Oxford Hospitals Charity with some particularly unkind coverage in the press. She was, apparently, for the chop. Sir Keir Starmer, or his allies, were reported to believe that she was highly intelligent but not as effective as she might be at getting the messages across. The likes of Rachel Reeves and Lisa Nandy were offered up as possible replacements. Yvette Cooper, a former Treasury minister, is another female Labour MP who is qualified for their role.
Tempting as it might be, though, it would certainly look a little panicky. With an important round of elections coming up in May, the last thing Labour needs is a fresh round of stories about splits and failing cabinet ministers. Besides, Ms Dodds is hardly responsible for the recovery in the fortunes of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives, relative to Labour. The reason for that is as plain as a needle going into arm – the transformation of the Covid crisis since the arrival of the vaccines, and the (comparative) lack of mass disruption caused by Brexit. In the year since he became leader, Starmer has narrowed the Conservative lead considerably, and overtaken them at times, and has looked like a competent alternative prime minister.