Starmer installs non-political ministers in ‘government of all the talents’ | Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer brought back senior ministers from the New Labour government on Saturday night, as he announced further additions to his team.

Former cabinet minister Douglas Alexander, who returned as an MP at the election, was made a trade minister, while Jacqui Smith, who served as home secretary under Gordon Brown, was handed a peerage and made an education minister.

Starmer’s willingness to bring back figures with government experience is set to continue, with suggestions that former health secretary Alan Milburn will be handed a role in pushing through NHS reforms.

It comes after Starmer demonstrated a willingness to bring in outside expertise for his ministerial ranks, in an apparent return to Gordon Brown’s attempt to build a “government of all the talents”.

He has appointed former chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance as science minister, rehabilitation campaigner and businessman James Timpson as prisons minister and Richard Hermer, an expert on international law, as his attorney general.

Hermer’s appointment, welcomed by senior legal figures, comes as Starmer is likely to need regular advice on the Gaza conflict. Hermer was among a group of Jewish lawyers, including former president of the UK supreme court Lord Neuberger, to write a letter warning that international law must guide Israel’s response to Hamas’s 7 October attack.

The letter stated that Hamas’s actions “were not simply a moral outrage but an egregious violation of all norms of international law”.

It said that Israel had a clear right in international law to respond in self-defence and a duty to defend its citizens, but added: “To be clear, collective punishment is prohibited by the laws of war. Equally, international law requires combatants to ensure minimum destruction to civilian life and infrastructure.”

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who co-signed the letter with Hermer, described him as “an international law expert [who] has lived and breathed human rights law since the Human Rights Act arrived”.

Sir Jonathan Jones, the former Treasury solicitor and permanent secretary of the government legal department, described it as an ­“excellent appointment”.

Patrick Vallance, who was one of the government’s most senior advisers during the Covid pandemic, is the new science minister. Photograph: James Manning/PA

He said: “Richard Hermer is an extremely experienced KC with the highest reputation. I have no doubt he will take very seriously the attorney general’s vital role of upholding the rule of law in government.”

However, Hermer’s arrival has meant sidelining Emily Thornberry, the London Labour MP who had held the role in opposition.

Starmer’s allies believe that appointments to a “government of all the talents”, or “goats”, will demonstrate that the prime minister intends to lead in a non-ideological way.

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Gordon Brown made a series of external ministerial appointments when he became prime minister in 2007.

They included former admiral Lord West, ex-UN deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown, the former CBI director-general Digby Jones and surgeon Ara Darzi.

There was some criticism of the appointments after some of the outside ministers did not last long in their posts. Lord Jones later complained that being a junior minister had been “one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences a human being can have”.

Others caused political embarrassment for the government. However, Lord Darzi stayed in post as a health minister for two years, while his review of the NHS won broad support.

In other appointments announced on Saturday, Ellie Reeves, the sister of Rachel Reeves, was made a Cabinet Office minister and replaced Anneliese Dodds as party chair.

Dan Jarvis became a Home Office minister, and Jim McMahon and Matthew Pennycook were made ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Douglas Alexander, meanwhile, was made a business minister.

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