Five to watch: the key players on Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench

The shadow foreign secretary has been loyal to Jeremy Corbyn from the start and was rewarded with a series of senior jobs where she has excelled in the House of Commons.

Emily Thornberry

As shadow defence secretary she managed successfully to square off the tricky issue of Trident, promising a review, before becoming shadow foreign secretary. She has recently shown her wit and fighting spirit when deputising for the Labour leader at prime minister’s questions. But her star could rise even further if the left of the party gets its way on the issue of a second deputy leader who would be a woman. Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, is one of those backing the plan with the aim of diluting the influence of the current deputy leader, Tom Watson. Thornberry is the leading candidate if that post is created and also a possible future leader from the left.

Keir Starmer

The shadow Brexit secretary is getting praise from many parliamentary colleagues at the moment for brokering a fragile truce on Labour’s EU policy over the summer. He has hammered out a position that just about satisfies both those on the left sceptical about the single market and those from the pro-EU wing who are desperate to stay in the bloc. Essentially, he has advocated honouring Brexit while keeping all options for the method of leaving on the table. He can also claim credit for moving Labour towards a position of a “status quo” transition period, which the government has belatedly copied. A former director of public prosecutions, Starmer has a formidable intellect and his performance in the Commons have improved after a slightly dry start in the job. However, he is not regarded as being on the Corbynite left of the party, meaning he is viewed with suspicion by some close allies of the leader who believe he may have ambitions for the top job.

Angela Rayner

The shadow education secretary was promoted after the mass shadow cabinet resignations of 2016 and she has proved an extremely effective operator since then. Despite only becoming an MP two years ago, she has held the government to account on grammar schools, scrapping free school meals and pupil funding changes, which have all been dropped or modified since education became a major issue during the election. She is another shadow cabinet minister tipped as a possible future leader, and has a hugely impressive backstory. She left school at 16 and had her first child as a teenager, before becoming a care worker, a Unison representative and finally an MP. She has spoken movingly in the past of growing up with a mother who could not help with her homework because she could not read or write herself. Although Rayner is regarded as on the left of the party, she has not been afraid to take independent stances and challenge the leadership. She argued in shadow cabinet for more provision for early years education in Labour’s manifesto, for example.

Andrew Gwynne

Gwynne came into his own during the general election as campaign coordinator. He had a bruising early experience in the job when Labour lost Copeland to the Tories in a byelection, but he was instrumental in the party’s sharper organisation after the snap election was announced in May. He also became a lively figure in broadcast interviews, communicating the party’s policies and acting as an attack dog against the Conservatives. In one fiery encounter on live television, he gatecrashed an interview with Boris Johnson to demand an head-to-head debate before branding him a “pillock”.

Jonathan Ashworth

The shadow health secretary is one of the few survivors in the shadow cabinet despite not having been one of Corbyn’s obvious allies. He has proved himself quietly competent at the job after refusing to take part in the mass resignations of 2016. He is regarded as a solid media performer and team player. Ashworth also spoke movingly last year of growing up with an alcoholic father as part of a campaign to get more help for children living with parents who have a drink problem.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 24th September 2017 21.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010