We’re meeting because Labour thinks it can do better. As the Conservative Party descends into what is likely to be a scrappy and savage leadership contest, a Labour victory at the next election is starting to feel distinctly possible, perhaps even likely. Keir Starmer, if he does end up being prime minister, doesn’t know one end of a yield curve from the other. So Reeves, his economics Yoda and close political adviser, is auditioning alongside him to get us out of the acute mess we find ourselves in.
“Her thinking has evolved quite considerably,” says a senior colleague from her Bank of England days, noting that her first pledge on becoming shadow chancellor was that Labour would buy, make and sell more in Britain. “I wouldn’t say she’s been a radical thinker — she’s not going to scare the horses. But she has a real command of the concepts and detail.”
Starmer was advised by his Blairite counsellors to pick Reeves as a replacement, which he duly did last May. Since then the pair have become genuinely close. Starmer relies on Reeves for regular economics guidance but also recognises her political savvy, honed over 12 up-and-down years at the Westminster coalface.
“We developed a rapport quite quickly and he sought out my views on issues wider than my brief,” Reeves says. “We message pretty much every day. He says, ‘I forget who works for you and who works for me.’ ” The harmonious relationship between their offices is a strength for Labour, for it was not always so. “It’s different from my other experience of a leader and a shadow chancellor — Ed and Ed [Miliband and Balls] did not always work constructively together,” Reeves adds. “We’ve had none of that with me and Keir.”
Starmer is many things but a natural politician is not one of them, which elevates Reeves. “He lacks political experience and political judgment,” says the former Labour shadow minister. “Rachel offers him more than just numbers. He relies on her and others to make up for a lack of experience.”
“Coherent is definitely within her wheelhouse,” her Bank of England colleague says. “Compelling remains to be seen.”
“The choosing of ministers is a matter of no little importance for a prince …
… and their worth depends on the sagacity of the prince himself. The first opinion that is formed of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of the men he has around him. When they are competent and loyal he can always be considered wise, because he has been able to recognize their competence and to keep them loyal. But when they are otherwise, the prince is always open to adverse criticism; because his first mistake has been in the choice of his ministers.
No one who knew messer Antonio da Venafro as the minister of Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena, could but conclude that therefore Pandolfo was himself a man of great ability. There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the second appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless. So it follows that Pandolfo, if he did not have the first kind of intelligence, at least had the second. If a prince has the discernment to recognize the good or bad in what another says or does, even though he has no acumen himself, he can see when his minister’s actions are good or bad, and he can praise or correct accordingly; in this way, the minister cannot hope to deceive him and so takes care not to go wrong.
But as for how a prince can assess his minister, here is an infallible guide: when you see a minister thinking more of himself than of you, and seeking his own profit in everything he does, such a one will never be a good minister, you will never be able to trust him. This is because a man entrusted with the task of government must never think of himself but of the prince, and must never concern himself with anything except the prince’s affairs. To keep his minister up to the mark the prince, on his side, must be considerate towards him, must pay him honour, enrich him, put him in his debt, share with him both honours and responsibilities. Thus the minister will see how dependent he is on the prince; and then having riches and honours to the point of surfeit he will desire no more; holding so many offices, he cannot but fear changes. When, therefore, relations between princes and their ministers are of this kind, they can have confidence in each other; when they are otherwise, the result is always disastrous for one or the other of them.”
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
“Further down the line, many in Labour can imagine Reeves — who has a strong support base inside the parliamentary party — as a future leader.“