The ballot to choose a new Labour Party leader has finally closed. The result will be announced on Saturday. It’s a contest that has been dragging on for months but has largely been overlooked as we focus on the Coronavirus threat.
Perhaps because of Coronavirus, it has been a unique and rather bizarre political contest. No rallies, no meeting the people in town-centre walkabouts, no Battle Buses. The candidates have had to confine themselves to campaigning remotely.
Even the rally planned to announce the new leader on Saturday has been cancelled. Instead, each candidate has been asked to record a victory message before they even know the result, which is weird to say the least.
Whoever wins will face a huge challenge, to resurrect the party after its worst election defeat since 1935. Of the three candidates, 57 year old Human Rights lawyer and former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Kier Starmer is the favourite by a country mile. He is backed by the country’s second biggest Trade Union, UNISON. He has been an MP since 2015 and if he wins, he will need to purge the left wing of the party, which has caused so much damage.
Starmer told a campaign rally, in the early days of the campaign when such things were still possible: “The first thing we need to do is to be united”. He added: “We cannot fight the Tories if we’re fighting each other. Factionalism has to go.”
Former solicitor Rebecca Long-Bailey, 40, has been the MP for Salford and Eccles also since 2015. She has the backing of Labour’s largest donor, UNITE, and The Momentum movement.
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Critics say she is the “Corbyn continuity candidate”, and you can see why. She wrote much of Labour’s ill-fated 2019 election manifesto, and told Tribune magazine that Labour needs “a socialist leader who can work with our movement.”
She blamed the election defeat on a failure of campaign strategy and not a rejection of Corbyn’s radical policies. She also told a campaign rally: “What I’m talking about is real aspiration. It’s called socialism and it’s what we believe in.”
Asked to rate Corbyn’s leadership in a TV interview, she gave him “10 out of 10” (!)
Lisa Nandy, who is also 40, worked in the charity sector for Centrepoint and The Children’s Society before being elected as MP for Wigan in 2010. She resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet in 2016. Nandy has become a champion of “small towns” which have been “left behind” and co-founded the Think Tank The Centre for Towns arguing that far too much political effort has been focused on cities.
“People in towns like mine have been completely ignored”, she said, arguing that Labour has to campaign more strongly in towns especially in the North of England. “Without what once our Labour heartlands we will never win power.”
All three candidates say they will deal with anti-semitism in the Labour Party and will implement the recommendations of the EHRC (The Equalities and Human Rights Commission) when it concludes its enquiry.
But the greatest challenge for the new leader will be to unite the party, appeal to Labour’s “broad church” of members and, eventually, reach out to voters as a united party with a realistic agenda. To achieve that he or she will have to be ruthless.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were also holding a leadership contest. Who knew?
However, it has been suspended until May 2021 while the country fights the Coronavirus pandemic. Party President Mark Pack said the party was “putting the national interest first.”
Former Coalition Cabinet member Sir Ed Davey, who is a candidate in the contest, will remain interim leader. Other candidates include MPs Layla Moran, Christine Jardine and Daisy Cooper.
The only question is: How will we all contain our excitement for another entire year ?