Only four candidates remain in the Labour Leadership race. What have we learned about them so far, and who are the front runners? Tannice Hemming takes a look.
Today, 14 February marks just one week until Labour members receive their ballots. Constituency and affiliate nominations have closed today and Emily Thornberry is looking likely to crash out at midnight tonight if she fails to get the final 3 of the 33 required nominations. We should learn who the new Labour Leader (and their deputy is) on 4 April. That is, if the leadership contest isn’t postponed as per the current controversial move by Deputy candidate, Rosena Allin-Khan.
Emily Thornberry – on thin ice
Currently acting as shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry came to power as an MP in 2005, for Islington South and Finsbury. Of all four candidates she has been in politics the longest. The rest have only done 5 years each, Having acted as deputy for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, she’s well used to scrutinising the opposition. Current odds of 12/1 according to Ladbrokes and Coral.
As a barrister, first called to the bar in 1985, Ms Thornberry, like Sir Keir, specialised in human rights law. She first stood as a candidate in 2001 but lost out to Tory incumbent Julian Brazier.
Ms Thornberry was born in Guildford and has spoken of the poverty that forced her parents to rely on free school meals and food parcels. She’s also discussed, quite movingly, the devastation she felt when her parents could no longer afford their pet cats and they had to be put down.
Thornberry has served in many senior positions in the government – shadow minister for employment, shadow defence secretary, shadow foreign secretary and shadow Brexit secretary. She argues that these experiences place her squarely in the frame as the best candidate for leader – she says she is “from the heart of the party”.
Sir Keir Starmer – a campaign dogged by tragedy
One of the newer crop of MPs, Sir Keir was elected in 2015 to the post of MP for Holborn and St Pancras. Originally a lawyer of Human Rights, his credentials in oratory put him as a favourite for many. As shadow Brexit secretary, the EU and leaving it is clearly a focus for him. However, his well-publicised anti-Brexit stance, which was crystal clear on Super Saturday, might lose him votes – especially with those who switched allegiance and voted for Johnson’s Conservatives in order to ‘get Brexit done’. Current odds of 5/2 according to Ladbrokes and Coral.
With a long list of backers, Sir Keir enjoys support from Unison, Usdaw, Sera, Community and 88 nominations from MPs and MEPs. An alumni of Reigate Grammar School, which is non-notably just a stone’s throw from my childhood home, he graduated from Leeds Uni with a first in 1985 and went on to study for his PhD at Oxford.
Most notably, Sir Keir has defended activists in the ‘McLibel’ case and was named the new head of the Crown Prosecution Services in 2008. He brought the prosecution against those accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence. They were found guilty in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, his knighthood was awarded for services to law and criminal justice.
He revealed his pitch for the leadership in the Sunday Mirror, writing “We cannot bury our head in the sand. The millions of people who needed change at the last election still need change. The moral fight against poverty, inequality and injustice must continue.”
Sadly, Sir Keir’s campaign has been slightly marred by the death of his mother-in-law last weekend. She was in an accident and many of his rallies and events had to be cancelled as he and his wife came to terms with the news of both the accident and her subsequent death.
Lisa Nandy – winner of the crucial Jewish Labour Movement’s endorsement
MP for Wigan since 2010, Nandy was the area’s first female and first Asian MP and was shadows education minister in Ed Miliband’s cabinet. Having supported Andy Burnham in the leadership contest that gave us Labour Leader Corbyn, she resigned in protest at Corbyn’s leadership.
Arguing that Deputy Leader Tom Watson should become a caretaker leader, she slammed Corbyn as “unable to form a broad, inclusive shadow cabinet that draws on the best of our movement’s left and right traditions”.
Deeply opposed to a second referendum or revoking Article 50, she was however originally a supporter of the Remain campaign.
Most significantly, today’s news brings word that the Jewish Labour Movement has endorsed her campaign, the backing of whom Nandy said she was “honoured” to receive. The endorsement comes after a hustings specifically focused on tackling anti-semitism where Nandy said she had considered leaving the party because of the issue and said anti-semitism within the party was an “existential” problem.
Rebecca Long-Bailey – Corbynite’s favourite
Former postalwoman-cum-solicitor Long-Bailey is currently the shadow Business Secretary and shadow Treasury Minister and was elected MP for Salford and Eccles in 2015. Her odds are 4/1 according to Ladbrokes and Coral.
Born in Manchester to a former docker in 1979, Long-Bailey has worked in call centres, factories and within a law firm before she became a solicitor. A key figure in Corbyn’s frontbench team, she’s also worked closely with John McDonnell, who is endorsing her campaign. Deputy leadership candidate Angela Rayner has also shown her support for Long-Bailey. It would perhaps be awkward if she hadn’t, given they share a flat together.
Long-Bailey believes she is what Labour needs: a “socialist leader who can work with our movement, rebuild our communities and fight for the policies we believe in”. “I don’t just agree with the policies”, she explains; “I’ve spent the last four years writing them”.
Critics of Long-Bailey point to her unwavering support for the outgoing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who she awarded “10 out of 10” points for his leadership. She argues that the loss of the latest election was solely down to a “lack of a coherent narrative”. She also points to the decision to call for another referendum as another downfall, suggesting that Labour should instead have focused on getting the right deal on leaving the EU.
Regardless of the background or gender of the next Labour leader, it’s clear that they need a cohesive and strong candidate to lead them through Brexit and holding the current government to account as we navigate the transition period and beyond. The appalling showing for Labour in last year’s election must never be seen again and many of their voters must be won back. With the mix of current candidates, I’m far from convinced that any one of them has all the required qualities to make Labour great again and win a future election. Only time will tell. Let’s just hope the best of them is selected by the Labour party members next week. We need Labour now more than ever.