Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
The 2019 General Election has been electorally damaging for Labour. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn secured an increased majority of 262 which in 2019 fell to 203, a slight increase from an exit poll predicting 191. Corbyn, who previously said on a This Morning interview that he would stay on as leader regardless of the election result, said that he would resign once a new leader is elected in contrast to an immediate departure. Tony Blair recently criticised the leadership as ‘terminally inept‘, especially with its failure to deal with antisemitism. He also criticised the ‘quasi-revolutionary socialism‘. Corbyn stated that he wanted to guide the party in a ‘period of reflection’ and make sure his policies are continued. This is a smokescreen for another socialist party leader, which is damaging, as I will go onto explain.
There have been several endorsements for potential candidates. The leadership election timetable remains unknown due to the lack of information from the National Executive Committee who decide the timetable. However, Corbyn has already said that he expects it to start in early 2020 with Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Party, recommending a start date on 7th January 2020.
The election procedure is one member, one vote. Members who join up to two weeks after the timetable is set will be eligible to vote. To stand, candidates need to be nominated by at least 10% of the combined membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party, European Parliamentary Labour Party and 5% of Constituency Labour Parties or at least three party affiliates.
Who will stand to be the leader?
Rebecca Long-Bailey (Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) is widely expected to run in the election as long-time ally Angela Rayner (Shadow Secretary of State for Education) is focusing her energy for the Deputy Leader election. She has been endorsed by John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) and other Shadow Cabinet members. Viewed as a child of Corbynism, she is the left-wing candidate in the leadership race and has performed well in leadership debates and Prime Minister’s Questions.
Emily Thornberry (Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) has announced her intention to run in the election. She has been mostly faithful to Corbyn, despite her pressure to adopt a second referendum position, and has replaced him frequently in Prime Minister’s Questions. Although under recent fire from claims by Caroline Flint (Ex-MP for Don Valley and a Shadow Secretary under Ed Miliband), she still seems to be a strong candidate. Will she be seen as too London-centric and posh for the party after the image she tweeted caused her to resign from the role of Shadow Attorney General under Ed Miliband?
Keir Starmer (Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU) is seen as a frontrunner. He played a critical role in scrutinising Brexit bills and has also stayed faithful to Corbyn. A previous Director of Public Prosecutions, he has been instrumental in his role of putting a second referendum in the manifesto. Will Keir Starmer be popular as a London-centric remain candidate despite the election loss, which has been blamed on the party’s Brexit position? He wants to maintain Labour values and a broad church party whilst vowing to remove antisemitism. He also wants to challenge Johnson on ‘Get Brexit Done’, which Corbyn’s aides supposedly did not allow him to do.
Clive Lewis (Shadow Treasury Minister) has declared that he will stand in the leadership election. He is pledging to ‘unleash‘ the party. He has criticised the Corbyn leadership and the policies it put forward in the December 2019 election whilst referring to the election successes of Blair and Brown. He is not seen to be a favourite in the leadership campaign as he is up against Shadow Cabinet members, but he has already attracted attention and support from Shadow Cabinet member Rachael Maskell, for example. He wants to give party members a say on policy, the selection of MPs and democratise the party. He hopes this will inspire and empower members and create a culture of respect within the party.
Fifthly, Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley has also been recommended for leader despite her lack of shadow cabinet experience. She is a strong media performer and her profile has greatly increased as a backbencher. With the personality to potentially be able to take on Johnson, she needs to convince Corbyn supporters that she is leadership material if she decides to stand for election.
Lisa Nandy is another potential candidate who is seriously considering running. As MP for Wigan, she is a strong campaigner. She wants a compromise on Brexit and gave some very subtle hints about where she would take the party during her speech on why Lindsay Hoyle should be re-elected as Speaker. Attacking Johnson and the left-wing isolation of the Labour Party, she positions herself as a centre-left candidate, portraying herself as a ‘compromise candidate‘.
Finally, Yvette Cooper has been highlighted as a potential candidate. She came third in the 2015 leadership election, behind Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham, who is now Mayor for Greater Manchester. Previously Shadow Home Secretary, she is now Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. She is seen as an experienced centre-left candidate.
What direction should the party take?
The direction of the Labour Party has been discussed at length since the exit poll. However, I believe the new direction for the party is simple. Corbyn won 262 seats for respecting the EU Referendum result but only 202 when he supported a People’s Vote. Arguably the Brexit Party had an impact but ultimately the next leader should adopt a position that respects the result. Corbyn and McDonnell themselves said that the December 2019 election was a Brexit election. All Labour MPs share the core values of equality and social justice. Therefore, I believe that it is down to the central issue, which is currently Brexit.
Furthermore, socialism is not electable nor feasible for the party. Many Labour MPs and people I met on the doorstep as a Labour member believed the manifesto was a ‘Christmas wishlist’. Blair is the most recent Labour leader to win the public vote and the General Election. We need to move towards a centre-left position and capture the centreground to be able to win again. We need a strong and feasible economic policy, a social and environmental justice program, protection of our public services, respect of the referendum result, and have a strong diplomatic capacity. This needs a competent centre-left leader who can rebuild the party and stop the reckless policies of the Conservatives. Corbyn tried to brush over the electoral defeat by claiming the public focused on Brexit. However, as with the party under Michael Foot’s leadership, socialism is not popular with the electorate. It must be highlighted that although Corbyn increased the number of Labour seats in 2017, he still did not win.