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Who will replace Jeremy Corbyn? Your guide to the runners and riders in the Labour leadership race

17 Jan 2020 10 minute read
The contenders. Pictures by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Matthew Hexter

Details have finally been announced for the election of the new leader of the UK Labour Party with the results being announced on Saturday April 4th. People wanting to join the party or one of its affiliates in order to vote should do so before January 20th, with ballots being sent to all eligible voters after February 21st.

But who will the candidates be? And how do they get on the ballot?

In order to get on the ballot a candidate requires the nomination of 10% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – currently 22 MPs or MEPs. Additionally, a candidate would require the nomination of 5% of Constituency Labour Parties (CLP) this is 33 or the support of three affiliates of the Labour Party, two of which must be trade unions.

If you want to see how many nominations each candidate got click the link here. All candidates have passed the first stage and acquired at least 22 nominations.

Now the boring technicalities are out of the way, who are the likely runners and riders?

Keir Starmer. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Keir Starmer MP

Age: 57 (The man has a picture in his attic I swear)

Constituency: Holborn and St Pancras

Elected to Parliament: 2015

Welsh nominations: He has been nominated by over half the Welsh Labour MPs – 13 out of the 22, including the Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour Carolyn Harris of Swansea East.

Career before politics: Barrister, Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service

Bio: Named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie, the London based MP is seen as the early front runner after a recent YouGov poll saw him as the likely winner from early contenders. Knighted for service to law and Justice in 2014, he is often claimed to be the lawyer who inspired the character Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones Diary.

As the current Shadow Brexit Secretary, he is seen by many to be Labour’s ‘Remainer in Chief’ yet unlike others on this list, he did remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn during the process of the vote to trigger Article 50. He has said since formally launching his bid to be leader that the question of whether Brexit will happen is now dead as an issue, instead the fight becomes about what kind of Brexit deal we have, with a focus on holding to account the Tories in Parliament.  He is renowned for his forensic questioning style which whilst theoretically makes him perfect for this role, also leads to labels of him being boring.

His pitch to members so far has seen him focus on his reputation for taking up worthy causes in his professional career before entering Parliament. He has focused in particular on his work in the McLibel trail, his work for Greenpeace, for taking MPs to court for expenses fraud and his efforts to secure justice for Stephen Lawrence.

He has pledged not to shift the Party to the right, stating that “another future is possible” and promising a radical agenda.

His primary drawback to many seems to be that people think he is just playing at being left wing in order to rise to the top of the Labour party, although limited evidence for this exists.

Rebecca Long-Bailey. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Age: 40

Constituency: Salford and Eccles

Elected to Parliament: 2015

Welsh nominations: She has only been nominated by one Welsh MP, the new Cynon Valley MP Beth Winter.

Career before politics: Commercial Property Solicitor

Bio: Long viewed as the natural successor to Jeremy Corbyn, RLB’s campaign was seen by may to be faltering before it even began. Rumours that Ian Lavery MP would be standing to be leader as the candidate of the left, as well whether RLB wanted to be leader dogged the opening week or two of press coverage for Long Bailey.

RLB showed her intent to stand by writing an article calling for the advent of progressive populism, a term that caused much confusion amongst members concerned about a shift to the right on social issues and announcing formally only the night before the contest officially opened.

Her eventual announcement does appear to be quite popular with the same left-wing base that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to Labour’s top job in 2015. Launching in the Socialist magazine Tribune, her pitch to members focused on a shift in direction, not in terms of policy but instead strategy. Speaking incredibly positively about Jeremy Corbyn, RLB claims that Labour’s 2019 election campaign lacked a coherent narrative and I would have to agree. Additionally, in her launch article the policy on which she focused heavily was the Green industrial revolution, a popular policy amongst Labour members and something in whose design RLB was heavily involved.

She has been criticised by some in Labour over the tone of her article, criticising past achievements of Labour Governments and seemingly drawing up factional lines. For what it is worth I do not believe this to be her intention. A tweet made in response to Wirral South MP, Alison McGovern seemingly shows that RLB wants the party to enter a more respectful period and to draw a line under the division of the past 4 years.

To me, despite the YouGov poll to the contrary, I think RLB must be considered the current favourite to win.

Jess Phillips. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Jess Phillips MP

Age: 38

Constituency: Birmingham Yardley

Elected to Parliament: 2015

Welsh nominations: She has been nominated by two Welsh Labour MPs, Rhondda’s Chris Bryant and Gower’s Tonia Antoniazzi.

Career before politics: Business development for Women’s Aid, responsible for the management of refuges for victims of domestic abuse

Bio: Despite claiming to be quite left wing in Labour terms, Phillips is quickly being framed as the candidate of the Labour right in this campaign. Though this is most likely due more to her battles with the current Labour leadership than her positions on policy, although certain comments which I will get to later have also re-enforced this positioning.

Phillips says: “Growing up with my father was like growing up with Jeremy Corbyn” and that she was raised to hate Tories. She left the Labour party over Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq, re-joining after the general election defeat in 2010.

Since being elected in 2015, Phillips has built a reputation for passionate speeches from the Commons backbenches, often going viral with common sense or compassionate approaches to politics in a place that often lacks both.

Phillips is held with deep suspicion by some on the left due to her criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, especially the handling of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis as well as her friendship with Conservative MP and Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees Mogg.

She had drawn significant criticism from LGBTQ+ people and allies for her apparent support from the Group Woman’s Place, which is regarded by some as being transphobic. Phillips has subsequently clarified her position on this, highlighting that the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee, on which she sits, had recommended changes to the Gender Recognition Act widely supported by the Trans community.

Her pitch for the leadership focuses on rebuilding trust with communities, especially in areas in which Labour have lost. She has however, failed to rule out arguing the case for the UK to re-join the EU. Presenting herself as a strong character, determined to hold Boris Johnson to account, she pledges to ‘Speak Truth. Win Power’.

Lisa Nandy. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Lisa Nandy MP

Age: 40

Constituency: Wigan

Elected to Parliament: 2010

Welsh nominations: She has been nominated by three Welsh Labour MPs, Aberavon’s Stephen Kinnock, Cardiff West’s Kevin Brennan and Newport West’s Ruth Jones.

Career before politics: Worked for Labour MP, Neil Gerrard before working for charities Centrepoint and The Children Society. Subsequently an advisor to the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Independent Asylum Commission

Bio: Famous for her appreciation of Towns, Nandy is thought of to be either in the soft left of the party or the Blue Labour part, depending on how you interpret her comments on social conservatism. She almost ran for the leadership in 2015 and was even encouraged to do so by Owen Jones. She eventually decided not to run an instead endorsed Andy Burnham. Nandy served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet as Shadow Energy Secretary until she left as part of the mass resignations following the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

As the co-founder of the Think Tank, The Centre for Towns and the MP for Wigan, it is unsurprising and very on-brand that Nandy officially launched her campaign in her local paper, the Wigan Post. In said post she was heavily critical of Westminster, calling for devolution and decision-making abilities for “every town, city, region and nation in the UK”. It further appears that Nandy wants to devolve internal power to Labour’s national and regional offices: “Our Labour headquarters, in my view, should move out of London, our regional offices should be empowered to take real decisions, we should move our party conferences back to towns as well as cities,”.

Like Long Bailey and Starmer, Nandy does not place the blame for electoral defeat at the feet of its left-wing policies but instead she says that Jeremy Corbyn is undoubtedly to blame for the scale of the loss. Yet, in her pitch for the leadership she makes a controversial (by virtue of it being correct) statement that Labour’s bad defeat in the recent general election was a long time coming.

Emily Thornberry. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Emily Thornberry MP

Age: 59

Constituency: Islington South and Finsbury

Elected to Parliament: 2005

Welsh nominations: She has been nominated by three Welsh Labour MPs, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney’s Gerald Jones, Pontypridd’s Alex Davies-Jones and Llanelli’s Nia Griffiths.

Career Before Politics: Human Rights Barrister

Bio: The current Shadow Foreign Secretary made it through to the next stage of the ballot by the skin of her teeth. Only when Clive Lewis pulled out 45 minutes before the deadline did she finally garner enough support from MPs, and only from people who wished to ‘broaden the debate’ or give members the final choice on its leader. Known as a bit of a marmite figure in the PLP, her lack of support amongst MPs is not really a surprise, especially with Rebecca Long Bailey running as the candidate of the left.

A loyal member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, she occupied the roles of shadow Defence, Shadow Brexit and shadow Foreign Secretary and served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet until the polls closed in the Rochester and Stroud by election in 2014. Her tweet of a white van and St George’s Flags considered disrespectful enough for her to be asked to leave the shadow cabinet.

Broadly popular with the membership but unlikely to be the first choice of many members with the most recent poll shows her obtaining only 1% of First preferences. If she can get on the ballot, and that is a big if, as union nominations are quickly being dished out and CLPs more likely to nominate Keir and RLB, she is unlikely to win. I will of course caveat my predictions with the information that an earlier draft of this article stated that Emily would not make it past the MP nominations stage, so take my prediction with a pinch of salt.

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Huw Davies
Huw Davies
4 years ago

Oh boy, you could pick any of these and still end up with a total jerk possessing only token awareness of the range of issues confronting the people of Wales. Until last week I felt that Lisa Nandy would be able to identify with the challenges confronting communities in Wales and the need for autonomy away from the big brother machine at Westminster. However her dismissal of “nationalism” by deploying all the old prejudiced clichés has served to drag her down to the level of the other ( more obviously) London centric crew.

John Ellis
John Ellis
4 years ago

Jess Phillips would be different, and therefore interesting. She might just have the capacity to appeal beyond the Labour tribe, but as the Corbynist rank and file don’t like her, the odds are stacked against her. None of the others seem to me to offer a sceptical swing voter much, if anything, especially appealing.

Dewi Evans
Dewi Evans
4 years ago

A fair amd objective analysis.

Sadly, it doesn’t matter. What matters for Wales is Independence.

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