Image Credit: Channel 4 News
As of 24 February, voting is now open for members to choose their next leader of the Labour party. Results are to be announced on 4 April. Between the three remaining candidates, a poll by Sky News and YouGov positioned Keir Starmer as front runner receiving 53% of the vote, Rebecca Long-Bailey on 31% and Lisa Nandy on 16%.
This is a significant poll as it highlights the differing blocks within Labour that are competing for control. Starmer has a significant lead primarily from the remain portion of the party. This in contrast to Long-Bailey which primarily makes her support from the leave portion of the party and more traditional northern seats within the party. The poll means that Nandy is most likely going to be removed from this round of voting, meaning that the main two candidates for Labour leadership may well be Starmer and Long-Bailey.
Before entering politics, Starmer was a lawyer and primarily did pro bono work. Some of his work involved him lobbying against the death penalty in the Caribbean and Africa, and gained him his knighthood. He has had strong support from ‘remainers’ and is perceived more as a centrist within the party. Perhaps then, the Corbynism movement might be weakening within the Labour party. He has also received support from senior Labour members such as Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, who stated that Starmer was the "best person" to unite the party and return Labour to power.
Starmer has been particularly supported by new members of the party, aided by the decision by the Labour Party to reduce the cost of party membership to only £3. This low price has been heavily criticised, as it means that Labour membership is easy to obtain and could mean that non-supporters of the party can easily vote. However, he claims that this has brought in 30,000 new members. Alongside this he secured the backing of Unison, the UK's Largest union who supported his campaign with a donation of £8,000, as reported on his campaign website.
He stated that if elected, he would be more in favour of Labour becoming a “Broad Church” party, and would not want the party to resemble to new Labour or to swing to the right. However, he has stated that he wants Blairites and both those on the right or left of the party to feel welcome under his leadership. While he has not identified as a Corbynite, he has identified as a socialist and commented that the main factor as to why Labour could not win the 2019 general election was because it could not deal with Anti-Semitism within the party.
Long-Bailey, in comparison, is a hardened supporter of Corbyn. She was the shadow business secretary under Jeremy Corbyn and is seen as a strong endorser of Corbyn. In fact, he even appeared in her campaign video and the idea has been floated of keeping him on in the shadow cabinet if Long-Bailey were to win. Long-Bailey announced that her campaign received a significant boost from the support of both Momentum and Unite, with Unite donating £200,000 and Momentum contributing £120,000 according to her camping website. Long-Bailey may have secured the financial backing of union’s however as the polling suggests that the candidate most politically aligned with Corbyn may not have the guarantee of the Unions onside.
Long-Bailey blames the Labour defeat on their compromised position on Brexit. She closely identifies with her working-class roots and often tells stories of worrying about her father’s fishing job at the Salford docks. All this has built het to be a more traditional labour candidate with strong working-class roots, arguably, than Starmer. Yet, with the future of the party at stake, she might be seen as too radical to some of the more moderate members of the party.
This is a battle over the identity of the Labour party. Whoever wins will affect the party’s future dramatically. If a candidate who rejects Corbynism or wishes to be more central emerges victorious it will certainly take Labour down a new path. Either way, the Labour party is set to define its new direction, which will affect UK politics for the foreseeable future. One thing remains certain, whichever candidate is elected will have the monumental task of recovering the party from its worst-ever loss since 1935.