Who is Labour’s New Shadow Chancellor?

By Adam Peggs

Despite much speculation that the position would be given to a longstanding centrist MP, Keir Starmer surprised many by giving the position of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer to Anneliese Dodds. An MP since only 2017 and someone who had not previously served in the Shadow Cabinet, Dodds is nonetheless well qualified for the role.

On one level Dodds’ appointment was not surprising. Based on his politics it was not clear that Starmer would want to give the position, effectively the most powerful figure in the Shadow Cabinet besides the leader, to a centrist figure. From the policies he had espoused during the leadership campaign (many of which have now gone missing) the same impression was given more strongly.

Yet many, including myself, had expected the position to be given to somebody like Rachel Reeves or Yvette Cooper. Dodds, the MP for Oxford East, was chosen for her strong appearances at the dispatch box, her reputation for being on top of her brief as a Shadow Treasury minister and perhaps her record as a public policy academic. These were, incidentally, all virtues the leadership is reportedly fond of.

Besides being a skilful and diligent Shadow Minister, who is the new Shadow Chancellor? Dodds was born in Aberdeen where her father was an accountant and earned £2 an hour in her first job, instilling a sense of anger at low pay. In an interview with the New Statesman Dodds said:

“I had a lot of friends who were doing the same kind of job that I started off on, but were looking forward to a lifetime of being paid £2 an hour. That shaped my view of things. Then, when I went to university it was just in the run-up to the 1997 election and a time of great optimism. I was involved with the Labour Party from then onwards.”

She went on to study PPE at Oxford, a Master’s in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Government at LSE. It was at Oxford that she joined the Labour Party, but where she also protested against New Labour’s introduction of tuition fees. Dodds’ PhD explored the liberalisation (or marketisation) of higher education – and while adopting a neutral tone, draws on work by Wolfgang Streeck,  Karl Polanyi and Allyson Pollock. Here, she displays a solid understanding of the central role of the state in shaping market economies over the last four decades.

Dodds has described herself as ‘inspired’ by Gordon Brown’s ‘international leadership’ during the 2007-8 financial crisis – a moment which has sometimes been read as signifying the beginning of the return of Keynesian economics into mainstream politics.

Elected a Labour Member of the European Parliament in 2014, she went on to endorse Yvette Cooper for party leader the following year. Despite this, Dodds’ record as a politician has left her frequently described as on the soft left of the party.

Dodds has been a sharp critic of austerity, an advocate for public ownership of water and the railways, and a supporter of a National Care Service, mutuals and taxing the wealthy – including advocating a wealth tax. She has also compared her own thinking on the British economy to that of her predecessor John McDonnell and advocated for the government to take public equity stakes, rather than offering simple bailouts to companies. Dodds has been denounced by the landlords’ lobby for backing tenants over landlords and calling for “a system that recognises houses as homes—as places to live and not merely investment opportunities”. Though this won’t amount to a sufficient programme for the left in the coming years, Dodds wants a different kind of economic settlement to that favoured by the Labour right.

Dodds is a member of the Co-operative Party and appears to subscribe to the politics of the cooperative movement, emphasising the need for “much more of a worker voice” and praising the cooperative principles of McDonnell’s proposed Inclusive Ownership Funds. Despite this, Dodds has distanced herself from the Inclusive Ownership Funds policy, which fellow Shadow Minister Wes Streeting has previously described as an “outrageous” policy.

This week Anneliese Dodds launched a new report with Ed Miliband responding to this year’s National Policy Forum consultation, with a call for £30bn of spending to be brought forward and spent on greening the economy. Around 70% of the response’s to the consultation backed Labour for a Green New Deal’s policy demands and the group have called on the party to “be braver”.

The report emphasises the social and economic value of rolling out full-fibre broadband, an element of McDonnell’s broadband policy, but does not make a commitment. The report calls for a National Retraining Strategy and makes promising noises on the need for job security and trade unionism, though there are not clear guarantees. It is also implied that the Party has moved away from support for public ownership of wind power, talking instead of “local firms” and “community-based” initiatives. The publication also calls for the Green Book (which dictates public investment rules) to be updated, a key policy favoured by McDonnell.

Most significantly, the report calls for a green National Investment Bank (NIB) as one of its proposals. Rhetoric from Wes Streeting earlier in the year suggested this policy could be ditched. Members ought to push for the structure and purpose of this public bank to reflect strong social objectives and enable economic democracy – and for the leadership’s commitment to regional investment banks within the National Investment Bank to be upheld.

Dodds’ speech at ‘Connected’ (the event which took place instead of Party conference) back in September named and shamed individual companies for firing and rehiring staff on worse conditions. This decision to single exploitative firms out was a strong contrast with the leadership’s efforts to present the party as very closely aligned to business.

As the party has moved away from Corbynism, some in the centre have been eager to drop even well-established aspects of social democratic reform – from the party’s rowing back from Dodds’ supportive language on wealth taxation to the reluctance of Shadow Ministers to commit to raising taxes on the top 5%, increasing capital gains tax or increasing corporation tax. This is alarming – and based on ideology, not expediency. After all, all of these policies are popular – even with a large majority of Conservative voters.

Dodds is surrounded by a group of ‘moderate’ Shadow Ministers and working alongside a Shadow Cabinet and Leader’s Office eager to break with the left-wing politics of recent years. This is difficult territory for a Shadow Chancellor opposed to privatisation and interested in wealth taxation and workplace democracy. It may be an uphill struggle, but members will need to make their voices heard. Among the Party’s rank and file there remains broad and deep support for a rupture from the existing social order. Right now, mobilising that support is vital.

Image: Official portrait of Anneliese Dodds MP, Source: https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4657/Portrait?cropType=FullSize, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.