Image Credit: Steve Eason
The Labour leadership contest has officially begun and five candidates: Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry have made it through into the next round. Each of these candidates has called for an end to “factionalism” and the huge political divide within the Party. The fact that some of these candidates don’t recognise the hypocrisy in their words is absurd and should be highlighted before we decide who leads Labour into the future.
Jess Phillips is the obvious candidate to talk about here, she’s been very vocal calling for the two sides of the party to unite under her leadership. This is despite the fact that she spent four years of Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as the Labour leader fighting against her own party's leadership based on ideological differences. As far back as 2015, when Corbyn was first elected she openly stated that she would “knife him in the front", before supporting a parliamentary coup in 2016 which led to Corbyn gaining an increased membership mandate. Phillips wasn’t deterred though; in the time since, she has been a vocal critic of Labour’s leadership in the media. For her to now be calling for unity and solidarity from across the Party is ridiculous in my view.
Let me just say, I'm not Corbyn or bust. I support the Labour party's policy direction over the course of his leadership but I understand there are fair criticisms of him. His communication of each new policy was sorely lacking, and it led to a lack of trust in a manifesto that polled significantly better than rival parties. There are antisemitism issues within a minority of the party that should’ve been dealt with more decisively and firmly.
However, Jess Phillips has seemingly criticised every single thing about the Labour Party. Some of those criticisms were valid, others were just public statements of her opinion which differed from the leadership. In my view, she should have supported the manifesto which was voted for by the membership of the party she is part of. She didn't do that.
Sir Kier Starmer is considered to be much better by most standards, he’s already garnered plenty of support from both sides of the party, despite being the only male candidate in a field of otherwise exclusively female candidates. In a race where many think it might be time for a woman to lead the second major party in the UK, Starmer’s candidacy may seem like a return to old ways best left behind. However, his popularity comes from his perceived ability to begin what is going to be a painful and long unification process for the party.
That said, it is getting a little hard to believe. The Labour Party needs to become a more broad church. Many of my peers seem to be allergic to compromise and consider it morally wrong to do so. I think that to win an election we need a leader that can fairly weigh up the positives and negatives of every aspect of the party’s supporters. Starmer may embody that, but I’m cynical at the prospect. His campaign team recently hired Matt Pound, one of the most infamous Corbynsceptics in the entire Labour Party. A man who has called for the entirety of Momentum to be expelled on Twitter might not be the sign of a man who’s trying to bring together both sides of what’s been a very vicious argument. This is overtly disqualifying for Starmer, but it doesn’t reflect well on his future policymaking; from a left winger’s perspective at least.
Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry have similar issues but are polling behind the others, including Rebecca Long Bailey. She has the opposite problem of Phillips and Starmer. She’s already being branded as Corbyn 2.0. Even if I liked Corbyn as the leader, which I did, that will not cut it going forward.
We must face up to the fact that we lost the election. Unity within the party wouldn’t just be nice, it’s a necessity. Corbynites have failed to do so for the past four years, whose fault that is doesn't matter, each side will make a case against the other. However, Long Bailey does not seem like the credible option for overcoming those differences. Even if she is, the media that gave Corbyn no quarter, no wriggle room, will not let up for Long Bailey.
I understand I've not given much hope here. I struggle to muster up any myself. The three ‘main’ candidates that are all polling high enough to realistically win this contest do not seem to be capable of manifesting the much-needed unity that Labour has to achieve. But that just means that the unity has to come from within the party's membership.
Whoever the next leader is, everyone needs to get behind them. Even Jess Phillips, whom I would not vote for whatever the outcome, we only have five years to regroup. Then we need to get the Tories out.