It is no secret that ideological warfare has been entrenched within the Labour Party for the last few years. Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity is thought to be one of the primary reasons why Labour lost so catastrophically, so with the leadership position now up for grabs, all eyes are on the new prospects.
Leadership races are conducted under a ‘one member, one vote’ system whereby members and registered supporters rank candidates in order of preference. Voting is thought to open on the 21st of February and close on the 2nd of April, with results being announced to the public around two days later.
The technicalities of the alternative voting system are complex, and some Unions are still deciding which candidates they are going to support. But, as things currently stand, we do have a clear idea of who the final four to be cast in February’s ballot are going to be.
MP for Holborn and shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, has been in the limelight for some time now. He received the most nominations out of all other hopefuls, and subsequently breezed through the initial nomination rounds. His background as a human rights lawyer and director of public prosecutions has curated his view for more ‘moral socialism’ within politics. As Corbyn’s former right-hand-man in all things Brexit-related, he believes that the party needs to ‘broadly retain the radical of the Corbyn era’. His list of pro-bono cases as a barrister is impressive, although critics have already begun to pick holes in his previous work within the Crown Prosecution Service and general closeness with the establishment. Others suggest that he is merely a replica of Corbyn. Admittedly, this is only a bad thing if you’re still an avid supporter of New Labour.
Speaking of – Lisa Nandy, another hopeful, really kicked off her leadership campaign by attacking Blair’s New Labour ideology for ‘perpetuating the consensus that Thatcher built’. Although a supporter of Corbyn, Nandy has mostly advocated for greater institutional change within the party. She is especially emphatic about the ‘disconnect in the hierarchy of the Labour Party’. Nandy’s position as the MP for Wigan, which voted Leave, places her close to areas which ‘feel neglected … and are turning away from the red rose party’. Her chances of winning, however, are questioned by sceptics, who feel her narrative for grand institutional change within the Labour Party may be rejected by the Labour establishment as a whole.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles, has been climbing the ranks since announcing her bid for leadership, and especially since getting the second largest trade union in the country, Unite, on her side as well as Momentum. But she too has been criticised for representing ‘continuity Corbyn’ by promising to push forward the ‘socialist agenda of the party’. Although this kind of criticism has similarly followed Starmer, he happens to be distinguished from Long-Bailey by his ‘soft-left approach’, which has attracted centrists, and is apparently unparalleled with Rebecca Long-Bailey’s ‘far-left’ agenda.
Long-Bailey has fought against ‘continuity Corbyn’ commentary by proposing big changes to Labour HQ and the way in which it campaigns in general elections but, in the same breath, has defended the policies and manifesto of the 2019 election which saw the party meet its demise by the hands of the electorate.
The fourth candidate and shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has spent much of her campaign criticising Starmer and Long-Bailey for operating like ‘machine politicians’. Although she is yet to garner any big-name affiliations, the MP for Islington South and Finsbury has declared herself to be more radical than Jeremy Corbyn in her aspirations for the party – though she does outrightly reject Corbyn’s manifesto as ‘wrong’ in any sense. However, her stance as a strong-Remainer has often found her under attack for ‘sneering’ at Brexit voters.
There are also some honourable mentions that have since dropped out of the race. Jess Phillips and Clive Lewis were both openly critical of Corbyn. In 2017, Lewis stepped down from the shadow cabinet altogether, and has attacked Corbyn’s complacency with Brexit policy. Jess Phillips, an even more outspoken critic of Corbyn, has taken issue with the party’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism and sexual harassment allegations. She advocated for greater honesty in politics, but ultimately failed to garner enough support to see her progress through the final stages of the contest. Some say the loss of Lewis and Phillips is a defeat in itself, as the remaining prospects tread on the same lines as their predecessor, and are unlikely to tell Labour members ‘what they need to hear’, or invoke any real change.
This candidate race is not only important because it foresees a replacement for Corbyn, but because it also aligns with a deputy leadership election, and resignations of other key figures such as John McDonnell – an ideological upheaval may be on the cards.
Or, not, considering most candidates do not directly oppose Corbyn or any of his policies. Nor do they propose the kind of disruption enacted by Blair in the 90s (not that this is a recipe for Labour success, by any means).
Should we strive for more of the same? Or should we root for ideological change within the Labour party to rebuild the coveted red-wall that was bulldozed on the night of the election? Based on the pitches of the current hopefuls, the objective is not to uproot Corbyn’s ideals, but to re-package them, and potentially soften them in order to alleviate the rampant factionalism within the party.
Watch this space.