Why we're optimistic about the new Shadow Cabinet

In times of crisis, human rights and civil liberties often come under threat, due to far reaching policy. However, it is important that those overlooked, due to place or circumstance, continue to have their voices heard. This is the primary job of the Shadow Cabinet. 

So, now the full Shadow Cabinet  lineup has been announced, we thought it’s an apt time to take a look at their human rights record and what a positive indication it gives for the future of the Labour Party.

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party

Keir Starmer has been consistent in his support for Humans Rights, same-sex marriage and legislation to promote greater equality - unsurprising, considering his career before Parliament as a Human Rights barrister. Keir has an impressive history as the Director of Public Prosecutions, where he helped to bring the murder of Stephen Lawrence to justice. In his inaugural speech as Labour Leader, he promised to “tear out” Anti-Semitism within our party; a pledge we hope to see fulfilled.

Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

We only need to point you in the direction of Angela’s statement on Human Rights to illustrate her commitment to the cause, where she defends the Human Rights Act and advocates a human-rights based approach to international policy.

As Shadow Education Secretary, Angela pushed for free education as a Human Right to be enshrined in the draft charter for the National Education Service. She ensured that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child were committed into domestic law as a new approach to children’s policy.

Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary

In January, Lisa delivered a speech setting out her approach to international issues. She’s a proponent of an ethical underpinning to global relationships, including military intervention when needed to defend international human rights, and refusing trade deals with countries that have not ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

In 2017, Lisa authored a piece that advocated the Human Rights Act for its place in the pursuit of liberal socialism, providing the means to collectively protect ourselves against arbitrary interference with liberty. The Human Rights Act, in Lisa’s eyes, is a device for defeating rising insecurity, “a lack of agency over the things that matter in our lives”, and for supporting a “growing minority whose concerns and priorities are not heard or acted upon”.

Annaliese Dodds, Shadow Chancellor

Annaliese Dodds is a capable politician, public policymaker and academic, with a specialism in social rights gained from four years in academia at King’s College London. Before entering Parliament, Annaliese was an MEP and served on the influential Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Annaliese has consistently voted in favour of laws to uphold and protect human rights.

Nick Thomas Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary

Nick was both Shadow Solicitor General and a Shadow Security Minister in the previous Shadow Cabinet and now serves as Priti Patel’s counterpart. He has spoken out against the systemic “trawling exercise” of Prevent, the Government’s anti-extremism programme, by raising concerns regarding the invasive and discriminatory practice against Muslims.

Alongside his fellow cabinet colleagues, Nick has praised the human rights act. Previously a lawyer, he has defended the act for “protecting the right to privacy, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression and association and providing effective remedies and protection against discrimination”.

Recently, as Shadow Home Secretary, Thomas Symonds has advocated for ring-fencing funds for victims of domestic abuse as part of the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

John Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary

The now seasoned Shadow Health Secretary has consistently voted for equality and human rights. Ashworth claims that his time in Parliament has taught him that “there are three big challenges facing the country: climate change; the changing nature of the labour market with automation and artificial intelligence; and life expectancy and health inequalities” - all of which present imminent challenges to protecting human rights.

Ashworth epitomises the newfound renewal of collaborative politics needed at this present time, being a key driver and deviser of government policy in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

David Lammy, Shadow Justice Secretary

David has 18 years’ experience as an MP, serving as a passionate advocate for the most vulnerable. He is an authority on justice and last year authored the Lammy Review: an independent review of the treatment of and outcomes for BAME individuals in the criminal justice system.

He is critic of the rise of populism and argues in his review that the independence of the judiciary is becoming a cloak from which to hide from their communities”, and that the Government must soften their hard line approach to immigration due to its impact on the marginalisation of people of colour.

John Healey, Shadow Defence Secretary

As the former Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey has been an avid advocate of a right to housing, a key pillar of our Social Rights campaign. He has stood up for the rights of those who are too often forgotten in society, but who do the jobs that keep it running smoothly.

John has always voted for strengthening the Military Covenant, and we are confident that in his new role he will continue to put people at the heart of decisions. In 2019, the current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace defended Turkey's offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces in north-eastern Syria in a NATO meeting, which has resulted in the displacement of over 300,000 people. We hope that John’s commitment to defending homes and livelihoods will stand him well for his current post in holding Ben Wallace to account.

Ed Miliband, Shadow Business Secretary

Ed Miliband returns to the front bench, armed with years of experience in holding government to account. In a 2014 speech, he vehemently defended Labour’s vision of the Human Rights Act: “British DNA runs through that document... over 800 million people have their basic freedoms and liberties protected as a result of the UK’s vision in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

Now, as Shadow Business Secretary, he faces the challenge of coalescing human rights, climate justice with the demands of business. His conviction in The Green New Deal and membership of Think Tank Common Wealth stand him in good stead to drive forward reimagining how we live and work, marrying climate justice and ecological justice. In his words: “From an economy that doesn’t work for the many, a green industrial revolution can provide meaningful, decently paid work, and we can pay for it in a way that is fair and confronts the big vested interests that would stand in the way.”

Emily Thornberry, Shadow Secretary for International Trade

As Britain forges new trade deals in the post-Brexit era, it is critical that human rights are the bottom line of any deal. We know that all too often wealth is put before freedom, and greed trumps equality, but with Emily, an assertive human rights defender holding government to account, we are in safe hands.

Emily has openly criticised Britain's involvement in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen,  defending human rights over economic gain. She has spoken out for LGBTQ rights across the globe, vowing that Britain must lead by example in proponing green energy solutions to the climate crisis and supports nuclear disarmament

Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary

With experience working in the charity sector and as a founder of the charity South East London Vision, although Marsha hasn’t been in Parliament long, she has certainly made her mark standing up for those who may be on the edges of society. Alongside being Vice-Chair of the All Party Human Rights Group, she has been vocal on the rights of disabled peoples and reforming our social care system as a social model of disability – explained in full in an article for the Fabians here. 

Now moving to a wider brief, she has already called out the Government for the disproportionate number of BAME NHS staff affected by the Coronavirus. We have full confidence that her passion and dedicated conviction will stand her in good stead.

We have a diverse and capable Shadow Cabinet. As the Labour Party shakes off old divisions, we hope and believe that Human Rights will be a banner under which all can advocate for a fairer, more just society.