Labour Leadership Election 2020 – a Forgone Conclusion?

After a somewhat tumultuous four years with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm, the Labour Party is poised to switch direction as it goes through the motions of a leadership election. The outcome of the contest could only ever go one of two ways, an extension of Corbynism or a clean break.

Even after the disastrous electoral result for the Labour Party in the 2019 General Election, the veteran MP still held his grip on the Party. Unlike his predecessor, Ed Miliband, Corbyn did not resign immediately following defeat. Whether noble or foolhardy, the fact remained that the leader and his brand of socialism would not go quietly.

When the contest was finally announced, speculation on the contenders immediately centred around two politicians – Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long Bailey[1]. They are two of three candidates out of the original six contenders to have made it to the final ballot.

To reach the ballot, candidates had to secure nominations from 10% of Labour MPs and MEPs and 5% of constituency Labour parties (CLPs). Nominations and endorsements from affiliated groups are also up for grabs. These include trade unions that are affiliated to the Labour Party and socialist societies which are groups within the party that have specific interests and aims including the Fabian Society and various faith groups[2].

Keir Starmer was the bookies favourite[3] before he officially entered the contest. The former Director of Public Prosecutions[4] is regularly seen as a safe pair of hands. His forensic examination of government Bills has routinely impressed party members and bodes well for his handling of despatch box confrontations with Boris Johnson.

However, where Starmer may struggle to win members round, is his stance on the European Union. He has the backing of the Labour Movement for Europe, Labour’s pro-EU socialist society. Starmer also held the post of Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union[5], which saddles him with the responsibility for Labour’s Brexit policy in the 2019 General Election. This is a divisive issue for both voters and Labour members and many still maintain it is this issue alone that lost Labour the election. If Starmer can reclaim the narrative and restore trust in his position on Europe, he will be laughing.

Touted as Cobyn’s successor long before the leadership contest was even announced is Rebecca Long Bailey who currently holds the role of Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy[6]. The Salford MP was relatively unknown to the public prior to the announcement of her intention to stand as leader. Unless one makes a habit of following internal party politics closely, she is arguably still an unfamiliar name.

Being branded as the continuity candidate would only ever be either a blessing or the kiss of death for Long Bailey’s campaign. The splits in the Labour Party are far from secret and for those more factional members, the association with the outgoing leader can make or break their voting choice.

It is not entirely fair to brand Long Bailey as another Corbyn, a label that smacks of sexism. She is her own woman, hailing from a different part of the country and generation than Corbyn. It is her followers, however, that really cement her position within the Party. She has the backing of Momentum and Unite, notoriously on the left of the Labour Party and key supporters of the Corbyn administration.

The third candidate to make the final ballot, Lisa Nandy, has seen an increase in momentum of her campaign. She has received an endorsement from the Jewish Labour Movement[7] which will be of marked significance to many party members. With the Labour Party’s record on anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn coming under fire, it needs to really get its act together in order to win back the support of the Jewish community and its allies. Nandy is unlikely to achieve victory in the contest, but it has most definitely cemented her place as one to watch within the party.

As it stands, Keir Starmer is the clear frontrunner, enjoying the support of 15 unions and socialist societies, 370 constituency labour parties and 88 MP/MEP nominations. Rebecca Long Bailey is trailing behind with nominations from 7 unions and socialist societies, 160 constituency labour parties and 33 MP/MEP nominations[8].

 It appears then that the bookies were correct. If Starmer can win over such an impressive number of constituency parties, including Jeremy Cobyn’s own Islington North, he should have no trouble securing the votes needed to crown him Labour Leader. If he does, he faces an uphill battle to unite the party and restore faith in the Labour Party. The leadership contest may have a forgone conclusion, but the political direction of the United Kingdom certainly does not.

Written by Abby King









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