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Starmer gathers new ministers for first cabinet meeting

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Sir Keir Starmer gathered his cabinet for the first time on Saturday morning after winning a massive majority with his promise to rebuild the electorate’s trust in politics and lead a government of “service”.

The new prime minister has appointed several prominent experts to ministerial posts in a sign of his determination to bring deep policy expertise into the heart of his government.

They included James Timpson, a businessman known for rehabilitating former prisoners, who is now prisons minister, and Sir Patrick Vallance, who served as the government’s chief scientific adviser during the Covid-19 pandemic and is now science minister.

Starmer passed over his former shadow attorney-general Emily Thornberry for the same post in government, instead appointing Richard Hermer KC, a human rights lawyer. Timpson, Vallance and Harmer will become peers.

Starmer’s government, the first Labour administration in 14 years, is facing immediate challenges including settling doctors’ pay negotiations, and is expected to set out an overhaul of the planning system within days, with the aim of spurring a badly needed housebuilding boom.

Deputy prime minister Angela Rayner in Downing Street before the Cabinet meeting on Saturday © REUTERS

Speaking to the media after the cabinet meeting, the new premier said he would embark on a tour of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday, and then convene a meeting of regional metropolitan mayors on Tuesday. This will include mayors who belong to other political parties as no party has “a monopoly on ideas”, he said. 

Starmer said he was “restless for change” and that the first duty of his government was “security and defence”. He confirmed that he would set up and chair new “mission boards” to drive policy through the civil service and aid cross-departmental work.

On the NHS, he said that “everyone who uses it and works in it knows that it is broken”; he also cited other policy areas, such as prisons, where he said parts of the system are broken.

Starmer pledged “country-first politics” and said that “tribal politics” had been a major cause of Westminster’s dysfunction in recent years.

As he entered Downing Street on Friday, Starmer used his first speech in office to pledge to rebuild trust between the public and politicians.

“This wound, this lack of trust, can only be healed by actions not words,” he said, promising to prioritise economic growth.

The prime minister is also preparing for next week’s Nato summit, where he will meet world leaders including Joe Biden.

On Friday the US president phoned Starmer to congratulate him on his election victory and to reaffirm “the special relationship between our nations and the importance of working together in support of freedom and democracy around the world,” the White House said.

He also spoke with Irish taoiseach Simon Harris on Friday and underscored his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

In his first appointments in office, Starmer named Rachel Reeves, David Lammy and Yvette Cooper as chancellor, foreign and home secretary respectively. All three held these posts in opposition.

Reeves has taken office against a backdrop of stagnating growth, rising public debt and the highest peacetime tax burden.

On Friday she told Treasury staff she plans to lead Britain’s most “pro-growth” finance department and support the industrial strategy that Labour hopes will bolster flagging investment. “This Treasury will play its full part in a new era of industrial strategy,” she said.

Former party leader Ed Miliband — who has taken the energy security and net zero brief — arrives for the meeting © REUTERS

Labour pledged throughout this year’s campaign that it would not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT in government and subscribed to a set of tight fiscal rules. Yet it could still be forced to raise other taxes, borrow or cut public services if it cannot generate growth.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was appointed deputy prime minister and housing secretary as the new government prepares to announce pro-development planning reforms in the coming days as part of its pledge to “get Britain building again”.

Wes Streeting, who was appointed health secretary on Friday, will next week meet representatives from the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, amid hopes of breaking a deadlock that has seen junior doctors strike 11 times in England in the past two years. He met the BMA during this year’s election campaign.

Officials are increasingly confident the new government can reach a deal that falls below doctors’ demands for 35 per cent pay increase, such as an agreement to raise salaries over several years.

Speaking on Friday, Streeting said: “We promised during the campaign that we would begin negotiations as a matter of urgency, and that is what we are doing.”


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