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UK election: Whatever happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet?

The former Labour leader is standing in Islington North - but how have his former allies fared under Keir Starmer's management?
Jeremy Corbyn with members of his shadow cabinet in September 2019, three months before that year's UK general election (ATP)

The UK election is on 4 July, with Keir Starmer widely predicted to lead Labour to a sizeable majority. His style as Labour leader is in contrast to that of Jeremy Corbyn, who led a shadow cabinet that included Starmer during elections in 2017 and 2019.

Corbyn, from the left of the party, won a shock victory under new voting rules that gave more voice to individual party members following the general election defeat of 2015.

A politically marginal figure who had never held a frontbench role, Corbyn's leadership prompted a backlash from the media and political right, as well as centrist figures in his own party. Despite this, Labour Party membership doubled during his leadership, and he increased the party’s vote share by 10 percent at the 2017 general election.

But during this time, Labour also faced accusations of antisemitism and wider internal splits. It fared less well at the polls in 2019, when its share of the national vote decreased by nearly eight percent as Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won its largest majority since 1987. 

Corbyn subsequently resigned as leader and was later suspended after saying that allegations of antisemitism had been "dramatically overstated for political reasons".

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During the upcoming election, he is standing against Labour as an independent candidate in his Islington North seat. But what happened to the rest of his shadow cabinet?  

Tom Watson

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, September 2015 - December 2019

Tom Watson, who served in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet, was later elevated to the House of Lords (

Tom Watson, a long-time party veteran, served as deputy leader of Labour throughout Corbyn’s tenure. As the Labour leader does not have the power to dismiss the deputy leader, this role afforded Watson independence from Corbyn and made him his biggest internal rival.

Watson announced his retirement from parliamentary politics prior to Labour’s defeat in the 2019 general election, citing “personal” reasons. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2022.

After a career-long parliamentary focus on gambling reform, Watson was appointed as an advisor on problem gambling by Flutter Entertainment, the owner of betting companies including Paddy Power and Sky Bet. In April 2020, he was also appointed as chair of UK Music, which represents the production side of the UK music industry. Additionally, Watson has written two autobiographical weight-loss books, and participated in a reality TV programme.

Angela Rayner

Secretary of State for Education, April 2016 - July 2020

Angela Rayner, who now serves as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Hailing from the party’s soft left, Angela Rayner served as Corbyn’s education spokesperson. In April 2020, she won the election to become Starmer’s deputy leader, a position she still holds, taking 52.6 percent of final round votes.

She was also appointed chair of the Labour Party and national campaigns coordinator in April 2020, but was sacked from these roles in May 2021 after disappointing local election results, triggering a backlash from senior party figures.

Following negotiations with Starmer, Rayner was offered an effective promotion to shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a coveted shadow minister without portfolio role. This began an upward trajectory that continued when she became shadow secretary of levelling up, housing and communities, which focuses on adressing economic imbalances across the country.

This shadow cabinet role has helped secure Rayner’s parliamentary loyalty to the Labour party line: in November 2023 she abstained from voting for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza in line with the Labour whip. She was also criticised over the police treatment of Palestinian Dalloul Neder, who police officers dragged out of a Labour fundraising event she addressed after he protested about his mother’s killing in Israel’s war on Gaza.

Rayner’s tax affairs made headlines in March after an investigation into the sale of her property in 2010 was launched by police. She was cleared and did not face criminal charges. She is standing again in her Ashton-Under-Lyne seat, which is forecast as safe.

John McDonnell

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, September 2015 - April 2020

John McDonnell
​Veteran left-winger John McDonnell (

John McDonnell resigned as shadow chancellor when Starmer became Labour leader in April 2020, and has sat on the backbenches since. Although he still holds the Labour whip, he remains a voice of dissent towards Starmer’s leadership. He is standing again in his Hayes and Harlington seat, which he has held since 1997.

Outside of parliament, he is a forthright voice for left-wing causes: he has visited Julian Assange in prison and has been a vocal critic of Israel’s war on Gaza, regularly speaking at pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Diane Abbott

Shadow Home Secretary, October 2016 - April 2020

Diane Abbott
Embattled Labour MP Diane Abbott, who also briefly served as Corbyn's Shadow Secretary for Health in 2016 (

A long-standing Corbyn ally and the UK's first Black female MP, Diane Abbott was offered no shadow ministerial role following Starmer’s leadership victory in 2020, returning to the backbenches.

Abbott is subject to frequent vilification: a 2017 study from Amnesty International found that almost a third of abusive tweets about UK MPs had been directed at her. In 2024, it emerged that Frank Hester, the Conservative Party’s largest individual donor, had told colleagues that looking at  Abott “makes you want to hate all black women”, adding: “I don't hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot”.

Abbott was suspended from the Labour Party in April 2023 over antisemitism allegations after a letter she in The Observer stated that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people, unlike Black people, did not experience racism “all their lives”. She apologised for the letter soon after.

Consequently, Abbott sat as an independent MP during a prolonged Labour Party investigation into her remarks, making it unclear whether she could stand again as a Labour MP in the Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat she has held since 1987. The affair strained an already tense relationship between the party’s leadership and its left wing, and with Abbott concerned that the party was attempting to deliberately “exclude” her from parliament.

In May 2024, it emerged that the official inquiry into Abbott – cited by Starmer as the reason for her ongoing suspension – had finished in December 2023. The whip was restored to Abbott the next day after pressure from the party’s left, as well Rayner. The party confirmed that Abbott would be able to stand again in her seat just before the close of nominations.

Emily Thornberry

Shadow Foreign Secretary, June 2016 - April 2020

Emily Thornberry MP
Emily Thornberry, who has played big roles in the shadow cabinets of both Corbyn and Starmer (

Emily Thornberry has followed high-profile roles in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet with more high-profile roles in Starmer’s rotating shadow cabinets, cementing her status as an adaptable heavy-hitter of the Labour establishment. However, her role as shadow attorney general, which she has held since Starmer’s November 2021 shadow cabinet reshuffle, is a veiled demotion from previous posts as shadow foreign secretary and shadow international trade secretary.

Thornberry is a longstanding critic of British support of the Saudi-led coalition and its war on Yemen. Her position on Israel’s war on Gaza has followed the party line: following whip instruction, she abstained from calling for a ceasefire in a parliamentary vote in November and defended the party's stance in media appearances. Thornberry is standing again in Islington South and Finsbury, where she has been an MP since 2005 and holds a majority of more than 17,000.

Rebecca Long-Bailey

Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, February 2017 - April 2020

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
Rebecca Long-Bailey (

Corbyn’s shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey was positioned as the successor to his political project in the 2020 Labour leadership election, receiving endorsements from unions and senior Corbynite figures such as John McDonnell.

But association with Corbyn’s 2019 electoral defeat cast her as a continuity candidate and hindered her campaign, which finished a distant second in the final ballot, taking 27.6 percent of the vote.

Upon Starmer’s victory, she was briefly given a courtesy role as shadow education secretary, succeeding Rayner. However, she was sacked after two months in June 2020 over antisemitism allegations that arose after she shared an interview with the actress Maxine Peake in The Independent.

Since her return to the backbenches, Long-Bailey has been largely absent from media spotlight, resurfacing as one of six rebel Labour MPs to vote against the renewal of coronavirus measures in October 2020. She is standing again in her Salford and Eccles seat, where she holds a strong majority. 

Richard Burgon

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, June 2016 - April 2020

Richard Burgon, who has sat on the backbenches since Starmer became leader (

Like Long-Bailey, Richard Burgon was a once ascendant figure on Labour’s left whose fortunes have waned under Starmer’s leadership.

After a failed bid to become the party’s deputy leader in 2020, Burgon has sat firmly on the parliamentary backbenches.

He has, however, leveraged this parliamentary independence to become one of the party’s most vocal critics of Israel’s war in Gaza. In October 2023, Burgon tabled a parliamentary motion calling for a ceasefire, and was one of the 56 rebel Labour MPs to support an SNP ceasefire amendment on 16 November. 

He is standing again in his Leeds East seat, where his support for Gaza could boost his already strong majority.

Jonathan Ashworth

Shadow Secretary of State for Health, October 2016 - November 2021

Jonathan Ashworth, now Shadow Paymaster General (

Along with Rayner and Thornberry, John Ashworth is another Corbyn-era figure from the party's centre who has been smoothly integrated into Starmer’s electoral machine. Starmer initially kept Ashworth on as shadow health secretary, before re-shuffling him to shadow work and pensions secretary in April 2021 and again to shadow paymaster general in September 2023.

Ashworth followed the Labour party whip by not calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza until February 2023. He also attracted attention for appearing to avoid condemning Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in May.

Ashworth’s ambivalence over Palestine has sparked a campaign to unseat him in his Leicester South seat, led by independent candidate Shockat Adam. Labour have designated the seat a “battleground area”.

Barry Gardiner

Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, June 2016 - April 2020

Barry Gardiner, now a Labour backbencher (

Corbyn’s shadow international trade secretary began running in the 2020 Labour leadership election but did not secure enough nominations to reach the ballot. He lost his shadow ministerial role following Starmer’s leadership victory and has sat on the backbenches since. 

Gardiner made headlines in January 2022 after a rare MI5 security alert was issued against Christine Lee, a lawyer whose firm served as chief counsel to the Chinese consulate in London - and who the Independent reported had donated over £500,000 to Gardiner’s political campaigns.

Lee has said that the issuing of this alert was unlawful. At an Investigatory Powers Tribunal in June, Lee said she had been used as a “political football". The tribunal, which deals with complaints about surveillance relating to the security services and police, also heard that Gardiner told Lee that the alert was issued to “detract attention” from criticism of then-prime-minister Boris Johnson.

Gardiner’s Brent North seat, which he represented from 1997 until 2024, was absorbed in constituency boundary changes by Brent West, where Gardiner is standing on 4 July.

Andy McDonald

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, June 2016 - April 2020

Andy McDonald, who was reinstated with the Labour whip earlier this year (

When Starmer became leader in 2020, Andy McDonald was reshuffled from shadow transport secretary to shadow secretary of state for employment rights. However, McDonald resigned from the post in 2021, citing disagreement with Starmer’s opposition to a national minimum wage increase and statutory sick pay at the living wage rate.

McDonald has been a vocal critic of Israel’s war in Gaza as a backbencher. In October 2023, McDonald had the Labour whip suspended for saying "we will not rest … until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty" during a speech at a pro-Palestine demonstration. The phrase “between the river and the sea,” which some say supports the eradication of the state of Israel, was described as “deeply offensive” by a Labour spokesperson.

After a formal investigation, the whip was restored to McDonald in March 2024. He is standing in Middlesbrough and Thornaby East, which succeeds his Middlesbrough seat, a Labour stronghold.

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