As new MPs settle into Westminster life, the battle for the Labour Party leadership will dominate the headlines during the first quarter of 2020.
The runners and riders are beginning to emerge, with the broad party arguing and debating both the causes of defeat and the way forward from here.
The Key Debate
Former North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock wrote an open letter where she stated her belief that the politics pursued by Labour at the recent General Election were correct, but the party’s stance on brexit and a latent hatred of Tony Blair were the cause of defeat. Her view was roundly criticised by those who felt that Jeremy Corbyn was a key factor in the party’s clear defeat.
Corbyn supporters came out fighting against a view that Jeremy was responsible for the result, challenging any dissenters on exactly how many doors were actually knocked on by those making the comments, knowing full well if they put in weeks of work, they knew Corbyn the individual was an issue.
In contrast, MPs who either lost or gave up their seats pulled no punches as they delivered a clear and cutting assessment of the leader. Corbyn or Brexit? This is broadly the two camps that have emerged as the navel gazing begins.
There is a case for the defence. Corbyn secured over 10 million votes, but the distribution of these votes caused the problem. There was, however, lots of support for Labour. Brexit was a big factor and whilst I dislike the cult-like elements of Corbynism (and I have witnessed it myself in the days since the election) I cannot deny the support was there, just not enough.
The second part of the debate and perhaps the one we should be focusing on more than attributing or denying blame, is who takes us forward.
The leader plays a huge part in the popularity of any party. It shouldn’t be this way, but the evidence is there that the individual matters, so who we pick is vitally important. Get this wrong and we face 10 or more years in the political wilderness, so let’s take a look at the likely candidates.
The likely winner. Rebecca, or Becky as she is affectionately known within the party, had (in my opinion at least) been pushed by Jeremy Corbyn ahead of Laura Pidcock or Angela Rayner as his likely successor. This subtle anointing was evident in Rebecca introducing Corbyn at key speeches and holding a high-profile brief within the shadow cabinet where she performed admirably. I have met Rebecca and found her to have the gravitas I’d expect in a leader.
Her reported appointment of advisor Alex Hannigan is an interesting one. The press picked up on Hannigan’s clear links to the hard left of the party, but perhaps it’s significant that it was reported John McDonnell was unhappy and felt he should have more involvement in Rebecca’s campaign strategy.Putting breathing space between the old leadership team could suggest Rebecca is planning a move away from the past.
It will be very interesting to note the content of her speech, if and when she formally declares herself as a candidate. Moderates will be watching whether Rebecca wants to continue as before, or tread a new path. Their support and their ongoing party membership could depend on what she says.
According to recent polls Sir Keir is the most popular potential candidate with the general public, however, he surprised me when interviewed on Radio 4 last week with a strong pitch to the left wing of the party. Surely he must know he is unlikely to gain favour with the fringes of the party and has to pin his hopes on a moderate surge.
I think this pitch to the left was a miscalculation that will cost him dearly as moderates could now hesitate before backing him. I certainly found myself thinking twice.
If I had a ballot paper in front of me right now I’d vote for Lisa. I met her when she came to Consett for a ‘meet and greet’ with members a few years back before the 2015 General Election and I found her very grounded and friendly. Her parliamentary performances are very strong and she commands the respect of the House. Lisa joined the house in 2010 and now has a decade of experience as a MP, representing a constituency classed as northern (although as a North East resident it seems strange to think of Wigan as northern!)
Lisa could win votes if she is seen as a palatable alternative to a more obvious left wing (Corbyn) choice of RLB, however, I can’t see her gaining huge amounts of support in the final vote. This is unfortunate for Lisa as her left wing credentials are genuine and longstanding.
If elected as leader Lisa would do a great job and I expect her to be given a senior role on the new front bench and hold this role for many years to come.
Dan missed his chance in 2015 where, for a short time, he was touted as the likely winner and breakthrough candidate. He had very noble reasons for not standing, but politics is a lot about timing and holding a dual position as Mayor of Sheffield will not give members confidence he can give his all to the role at present. Dan has been virtually silent under Corbyn’s leadership and I don’t think that many people will see him as the next leader.
As a BAME candidate with military service and with a strong left-wing background, his candidacy must be taken seriously. However, Clive has only been a MP since 2015 and has made a few glib comments that he was forced to later apologise for.
I feel it’s too soon for Clive and it would take a very large but surge in support for him to emerge as a leading candidate.
The first candidate to formally announce her leadership bid, Emily is a strong performer. Unfortunately she was badly damaged politically by the infamous British flag tweets of 2014, which forced her resignation from Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet.
A strong Corbyn supporter, she held the senior Shadow Cabinet roles of Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Brexit Secretary (concurrently for a period of time before the latter role was taken by Sir Keir Starmer).
She has, however, strongly criticised Corbyn’s leadership since the General Election and criticised the “moon and stars” offer in the manifesto. I do not think this will ingratiate herself with the voters she would need to win, nor will it be possible to create distance between the result and her own candidacy, due to how close Emily was during the Corbyn leadership.
For me, Emily is not a leading contender.
Jess is very well-respected across the House of Commons and her direct, no-nonsense speeches and interviews have gained her a high profile as a MP who is not afraid to speak her mind.
She is controversial within the movement due to her forthright and forceful opposition to the Corbyn leadership. Jess will surely get no support from the left and will stand hoping a moderate majority backs her leadership bid.
She is a genuine “new start” candidate whose election would mark a real turning point for the party in both ideology and presentation.
Unfortunately for Jess I fear she will gain insufficient support from the grassroots for her leadership bid. She remains, however, a politician who must be respected for her honesty amid unbelievable levels of abuse and has an authenticity as a politician few can match.
Angela has all but declared her intention to run for Deputy Leader on a RLB/Rayner ticket. If Angela stood for leader it would be a really close battle between her and RLB. What is likely to prevent this battle occurring is the fact they are roommates and close friends.
They will not wish to oppose one another or, perhaps more importantly, risk splitting the vote and allowing a third candidate to emerge inbetween them and win. There will be many members disappointed because they hoped Angela would stand. She is a very credible candidate who is extremely popular within the party. She has an authenticity through her background and life experiences.
Over recent days it has been reported by a number of political journalists that Ian Lavery is weighing up a leadership challenge. I would not personally be in favour of his candidacy. He has faced a number of serious allegations that, if true, makes his candidacy untenable. If he is innocent, it is almost as equally bizarre he did not bring forward the proof to categorically quash the allegations.
Labour remains the only major party not to have had a woman leader, hence why I favour Rebecca, Angela or Lisa as the candidates most likely to win in the final vote. It will be an interesting campaign, but I expect Rebecca Long-Bailey to be our next Leader.