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18 July 2023

“Cautious Rachel” defends two-child benefit cap

Rachel Reeves and Wes Streeting put on a jovial show of Labour unity amid rumours of division.

By Zoë Grünewald

Reports of divisions in the Labour Party have been swirling following Keir Starmer’s refusal to back scrapping the two-child benefits cap. But last night (17 July), at a New Statesman and Labour Together reception, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, attempted to show the crowd of hacks, politicians and aides that the shadow cabinet is united.

Reeves, who alongside Starmer is facing criticism from MPs and activists over the benefits cap, insisted that maintaining it was vital to “rebuild the trust” of the electorate. She said that Labour needed both “creative Rachel” and “cautious Rachel” to make sure “we can have creative Wes, creative Bridget [Phillipson, the shadow education secretary], and creative everyone else” in government. There would be no chance to have “policies to transform the country, whether it is on education or health, and, indeed, putting children out of poverty, unless we get a Labour government, that is now within our grasp”.

Streeting, who gave the opening speech at the event, also spoke in support for Starmer, telling the crowd that the expectation the Labour will win the next general election is due to “Keir’s leadership of the Labour party”. He also warned against complacency, and to critics on the party’s left said that “it’s no use campaigning for a better Labour opposition, it’s time to start campaigning for a better Labour government”.

Wes Streeting joked about rumours of a shadow cabinet reshuffle. Photo by The Photo Team

Streeting took the opportunity to crack a few jokes, saying Reeves would be along later because she was still in parliament voting on the Illegal Migration Bill. “I’m sorry that Rachel’s bobbing along later as I did have some jokes at her expense which aren’t so much fun when she’s not in the room,” Streeting said.

“You may know that Rachel is very good at chess,” he continued. “She was a one-time under-12s chess champion or something like that. And, basically, she is committed to keeping up chess by playing under-12s. If you look at Rachel’s Instagram feed it has lovely pictures of her playing chess against children, but not telling you the score.”

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Streeting steered clear of jokes about Starmer, referencing rumours that the Labour leader is soon to make some changes to his frontbench team: “I did have a joke at Keir’s expense but with reshuffles in the air that would be very, very unfortunate”.

Not one to be outdone, the typically serious and sensible Reeves had a few gags of her own. After being introduced as “Britain’s first female chancellor”, she said: “Wes didn’t bother voting in the votes tonight… I also gather that he likes to speak when I’m not there so he can get away with unfunded spending commitments. Any of that, come and have a chat with me.”

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[See also: The two-child benefit cap makes the future a luxury]