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Women to watch in British politics in 2024

  • Politics

This International Women’s Day, we shine a spotlight on five inspirational women in politics who might not be grabbing headlines themselves but who we’re sure will be making an impact on the political scene in this crucial election year.

Nerissa Chesterfield, Director of Communications at Downing Street

To say that Nerissa has had something of a mountain to climb would be an understatement. The Conservatives have been languishing behind Labour in the polls since well before Nerissa was appointed in her role last September. Still, she’s taken on the challenge with enthusiasm and is renowned for her subtle influence & impact behind the scenes. Recognised for her prowess in communication strategy and her loyalty to Sunak, she has a reputation as a brilliant campaigner and plenty of experience to back it up. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the political world who wouldn’t acknowledge her expertise – regardless of which side of the political fence they’re on. And this relatively recent return to front line should only increase her stock in the long term regardless of election results.

Ayesha Hazarika, former Labour adviser and recently appointed Labour Peer

A well-known Westminster figure from the previous Labour era, and a regular on television and Times Radio, Ayesha’s influence has been confirmed by her recent appointment by Keir Starmer to the House of Lords where she will sit as a Labour peer. The former Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman staffer briefed both for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) before literally writing the book on it – Punch and Judy Politics was published in 2018. Buoyed by her new found proximity to the leadership in the Palace of Westminster, could we see her taking on a similar role to a potential PM Starmer in Downing Street? With her Scottish heritage, she is credited as understanding the political winds in Labour’s former heartland better than most in Westminster; a helpful attribute ahead of a tightly contested general election where the party will hope for a resurgence at the expense of SNP MPs.

Jill Cuthbertson, Director of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition

As Keir Starmer’s head of private office, Jill is a crucial gatekeeper who manages the decisions on where he goes and why. If you want any time with Starmer, you need to go through Jill and in many ways, she is a key decision maker – particularly on how to articulate his message, presentation and key relationships. Having worked with Gordon Brown in Downing Street and for Ed Miliband when he was leader of the opposition (LOTO), Jill is well-known and well-liked. She was also one of the key Scots in the LOTO set up, with a huge relationship network and a keen understanding of the Scottish political dynamic which will come in even more useful with the expected influx of new Scottish MPs and a more powerful Scottish Leader in Anas Sarwar.

Shannon Donnelly, Head of Policy for the SNP

Shannon is a crucial contact point for all stakeholders on SNP policy ahead of the general election. She has the unenviable task of turning the policy ambitions of MPs, MSPs and organisations across Scotland into a solid set of proposals for the SNP manifesto and campaigns across the country – all the while ensuring ideas are compatible with Scottish Government policy. Compiling the manifesto is a thankless backroom task but if the SNP is to have influence in the next parliament what gets priority in the manifesto will be a signal of the party’s priorities in any post-election negotiations, so her role is crucial. Having run the SNP’s policy research team in the Scottish Parliament before joining SNP HQ she’s well used to navigating competing views of politicians and does it well.

Jess Morden MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary for Keir Starmer, Labour MP for Newport East and Shadow Minister for Wales

Jess has an integral role as Starmer’s parliamentary political antennae, serving as his eyes and ears when he’s not around. As a long-serving parliamentary behind-the-scenes “insider” (she served eight years in the Whips Office and as deputy commons leader) her experience is invaluable to a leader who isn’t a Westminster insider himself. Plus, her sound political judgement is seen as a big advantage. In her time Jess has run countless campaigns and high profile byelections giving her deep relationships with many in the party. The fact that she is well respected by all is telling of her professionalism and ability. Expect to see her role be even more integral should Labour come to power.

Image: (L-R) Ayesha Hazarika, Nerissa Chesterfield, Shannon Donnelly, Jill Cuthbertson and Jess Morden MP.

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