After last week’s crushing defeat, Corbyn is standing down, but who are the frontrunners in the bid to replace him
Corbyn is gone, or going, and out of the waves of disappointment and despair must come a new leader. After last week’s crushing defeat, many within the Labour Party will be asking themselves whether Momentum – the grassroots movement that rallied around Corbyn and Labour – and its socialist rhetoric was too-much-too-fast for Britain’s weathered electorate, and whether a tack to the centre is a compromise they are willing to make. On the other hand, those who voted for Corbyn in 2015, and then again in 2017, will likely be looking for someone to carry on his legacy, which took the party away from the centre and aligned it with its more radical heritage.
Whoever the new leader is, we know a number of touted frontrunners are women, and many represent constituencies far from the south east. Jenny Formby, Labour’s general secretary, has already suggested that the new leader will be in by the end of March, and is recommending a timetable for the contest to begin January 7. So, while we reel from Thursday’s heartbreak, it’s worth thinking seriously about what, or more specifically, who, comes next.
Corbyn’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has curried favour in some circles for her no-nonsense approach to politics. There’s certainly something charismatic about her curtness, but as MP for Islington South and Finsbury, she may be considered too close to the “metropolitan elite” image the party are trying to shrug after Corbyn’s mesmeric defeat. The daughter of a single mum and on free school meals through her childhood, Thornberry has nevertheless struggled to dodge accusations of snobbery, not necessarily helped by the fact that she’s married to a Knight. Having occupied a number of shadow cabinet positions under Miliband and Corbyn, Thornberry is an experienced candidate for leader. Although she was close to Corbyn, there’s no doubt she would make a more moderate leader and take the party closer to the centre.
A divisive figure, Jess Philips has as many critics as fans. Barely a week passes when this backbencher isn’t in the news – whether for one of her expletive-ridden speeches, or for courting the media under various guises. Put it this way, there’s not many back-benchers with a name as prolific as Philips’. On Thursday, the Birmingham Yardley MP was caught seemingly celebrating Labour’s crushing defeat, before adjusting her demeanour once she realised cameras were rolling. Many take this, along with her very public skirmishes with controversy (including lying about telling Dianne Abbot to “fuck off”), as emblematic of her self-serving agenda. Critics are sceptical to say the least – more than one has questioned whether the ‘Bad Girl from Brum’ persona is more of an elaborate performance than an honest representation of Philips’ background. She’s drawn praise for her work campaigning for victims of domestic abuse, but been accused of transphobia in her positioning on women-only spaces.
Touted by Owen Jones as a possible candidate for leadership after Ed Miliband’s resignation, Lisa Nandy eventually declined to run for the bid and instead endorsed Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership race. One of only a handful of female Asian MPs, she has frontbench experience from her time as shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change in Corbyn’s first cabinet. When she declined to take up the position after his second leadership victory, the response from those within Corbyn’s camp was fiery, with Nandy saying she was left “genuinely frightened” by some of the backlash. For those looking to move away from Momentum and the hard-left, the MP for Wigan is a popular choice. Yesterday she effectively threw her hat in the ring and started courting lost-voters saying she understands Leavers and the North. Nandy endorsed Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which mirrored the Leave mentality of her Wigan constituents, but may not be a popular decision among the majority Remain Labour membership. She already has the backing of Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, with many other moderates likely to follow in the coming weeks.
Another Londoner, Keir Starmer’s chances in the leadership bid might be weighted against him. His role in Corbyn’s backing of a second referendum might not be popular among those who believe a harder Remain stance would have helped Labour’s result on Thursday, though many favour him for his role as the party’s Brexit spokesperson, holding the Tories to account. Starmer is popular with other MPs, and has the potential to garner support from both the Corbyn camp and moderates. This morning, he received the backing of de-selected MP Jenny Chapman, who threatened to sit in his office until he agreed to run. According to Chapman, Labour need a leader like Starmer to take Johnson to task. “I know what my constituents were telling me on the doors. They wanted to know who is going to protect our national security, their children’s future, their mortgages, their pensions,” said Chapman.
A proud socialist and close ally to Corbyn, Rebecca Long-Bailey will be popular in the leadership race for those with hard-left convictions. The Salford MP, and daughter of a dock-worker and trade union rep, Long-Bailey seems to tick a lot of boxes – she’s already been endorsed by Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, and can expect other endorsements from Corbyn’s camp as the race continues. However, her affiliation with the failed Corbyn camp could be off-putting for many. Angela Rayner, another candidate previously tipped for the top-spot, is now focusing on the role of Deputy Leader. No doubt this is tactical, as the pair could have been at risk of splitting each other’s vote.
Popular and talented MP for Tottenham, David Lammy could be a good bet for a centre Labour leadership candidate. Lammy has made a name for himself as a politician who doesn’t pull any punches, and can be relied on to speak in a way many find refreshingly human. A champion of his constituents and an energetic speaker on a variety of topics, Lammy is another star within the party that many would like to see move up the ranks. In 2014, Lammy made a bid for Mayor of London candidate but came in fourth behind Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell and Dianne Abbot. During the campaign he was forced to pay a fine and make a public apology for instigating 35,629 ‘nuisance calls’ urging people to back him. Labour’s first BAME leader could be a good thing for a party recovering from its own racism scandal, but whether the party want another man and another Londoner is a question many will be asking.
MP for Brent Central Dawn Butler, might be popular in London, but her ambiguous political allignment – she served on Gordon Brown’s front bench as well as Corbyn’s – could be cause for suspicion among those who found Corbyn’s position on Brexit too vague. That said, Butler has been an MP for almost 15 years and has a good understanding of the Labour Party’s inner workings. She’s been a vocal advocate of LGBTQ+ interests, championing reforms to the Gender Recognition Bill that have repeatedly been tabled by the Tories. And crucially, she’s keen to stand up to Boris, as demonstrated on the campaign trail when she publicly called out the prime minister for his repeated failure to treat women respectfully.
Former cabinet member under Gordon Brown, this will be Yvette Cooper’s second leadership bid, after coming in a narrow third behind Andy Burnham and Corbyn in 2015. At the time she had the support of Brown and former home secretary Alan Johnson. Cooper is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and a formidable opponent on the Commons floor, but with an international career spanning Balliol College and Harvard, right up to chief economics correspondent for the Independent, she may well be considered too ‘establishment’ for those looking for a workers leader. Cooper has been instrumental in the battle to prevent a no-deal Brexit and will be a popular candidate among Labour moderates and Remainers.