Labour Leadership

Reflections on the Corbyn Years

Tomorrow, Jeremy Corbyn’s term at the helm of Labour will come to an end. Some of The Social Review’s editors and contributors give their thoughts on his leadership:   “Corbynism changed what we thought was possible within electoral politics” It is impossible to overstate how necessary Corbyn’s victory was for the Labour party. Had it not happened, there is a very good…

Genre Change

Though Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has stuck in the wider cultural memory as a great romance for the ages, one of the most important parts of the novel does not deal with pining or misunderstandings or grand love declarations: it is instead when Charlotte Lucas, who had until that point all but become a spinster, tells her friend Elizabeth Bennett that…

The Social Review Podcast Episode 32: Rounding Up Open Labour’s Conference

The Social Review’s Open Labour Conference delegation (Pete, Joe, Morgan and Sean) sit down with Open Labour Committee members (Tom, Anisha, Michael and Rachael) and friend of the podcast Sarisha as they break down their reactions and thoughts on last week’s leadership hustings over a pint! Some of the audio wasn’t usable but this is what we could save! iTunes

The Social Review Podcast Episode 31: Previewing Open Labour’s Conference

This week, Jasper sits down again with Steve Lapsley of Open Labour’s NEC to preview their winter conference on Sunday, January 26th, discussing their Labour leadership hustings and the fallout from the general election. iTunes Link The Social Review is pleased to be the official media partner of Open Labour’s hustings in Nottingham on January 26th, an event sponsored by the Electoral…

The Need for Democratic Reform

Why democratic reform must be at the heart of Labour’s programme for government After December’s election defeat there is a clear need for all candidates to engage in a clear, honest and thoughtful assessment of Labour’s current electoral and political situation. The ongoing leadership contest must include a serious discussion of how to remake and renew Britain’s democratic institutions. We’ve so far…

Rebecca, always Rebecca: State of the Race

Rebecca, always Rebecca

Tuesday 4 Feb – 15:10

Good evening!

We’ve seen hundreds of new nominations appear on the map, and while Long-Bailey got a bit of an uptick, the overall picture is the same: a landslide for Starmer and a scattered few for Nandy and Thornberry. The fantastic Jacob Weinbren also added more features to the map, so please feel free to play around!

And so, like a Daphne du Maurier character, this leadership race cannot escape the shadow of Rebecca:  Long-Bailey has officially made the ballot, thanks to two union endorsements, the Fire Brigades Union, and the CWU for good measure. This was always going to be the case, of course, but it’s telling that during the time it took her to qualify, the frontrunner Keir Starmer has picked up enough support to make the ballot three times (once on affiliates, and twice on CLPs). This isn’t to say that the race is now a done deal, but considering that Long-Bailey is likely to struggle with second preferences, she has a mountain to climb at this point. 

This might go to explain her shift in tone of the last week, to a more subtly negative tone, which began with the proposal for Open Selections (which does not have to be contentious, but has become so), and later a reminder to the membership of the 2016 coup, an issue which puts Starmer and Nandy in the thorny position of having to justify their opposition to Jeremy Corbyn, and lastly, by launching a challenge for candidates to commit to policies 

Will these measures work? The pitch for Open Selections has been previously discussed, and I am of the opinion that probably it probably won’t. Similarly, trying to remind people of the 2016 coup might be a good idea, but it should be made much more explicit, because in all honesty, nobody knows who Rob Marris is, and even fewer people remember Labour’s response to a bill in 2016.

The nationalisation challenge is a little more interesting. As Stephen Bush said, it is a very easy bar to clear, and, crucially, anyone who has heard of this “challenge” at this point has probably decided to vote for Long-Bailey anyway, which means Starmer or Nandy can either (pretend to) embrace or ignore it, without much damage. People often vote for the candidate they imagine than the candidate they see in front of them; yes, the real Keir Starmer is a nebulous figure whose politics sways across the party’s spectrum, and whose charisma is nonexistent. But the perceived Keir Starmer was a relatively loyal frontbencher, and people remember him as such.

What makes this proposal fascinating, though, is that it sort of points to an attempt to exercise power after the election is lost; it works better as an attempt to “widen the debate”, as Corbyn used to say in 2015; trying to bind the winner (likely Starmer) to a more left wing programme and to exercise power over the agenda later. If that’s the case, then this proposal is quite smart, and ensures that Momentum and the wider leftist membership have roles to play even in the event that their candidate loses this race.

In the meantime, if she wants to win, it seems like Long-Bailey has two choices: either to go completely negative and hope to erode Starmer’s image, and to a lesser extent that of Nandy, in the eyes of the members, whatever the later consequences of that might be – or she can pitch herself as an excellent manager. Going halfway won’t sway members. 

Elsewhere, in the considerably more inconsequential deputy leadership race, Angela Rayner continues to romp towards victory. While ultra-Corbynite Richard Burgon has made the ballot thanks to Unite, and Dawn Butler did it through the hard path of CLP nominations, it is looking uncertain for Ian Murray, though he may still make it with a strong performance among Scottish CLPs and a handful of particularly Corbynsceptic local parties south of the border, and (unfairly) trickier still for Rosena Allin-Khan, despite her lively and memorable campaign.

There have been a couple of conversations about how Rayner should have gone for leader instead of deputy. That’s partly because Rayner’s story is the story of the Labour party as it dreams itself to be: a force able to facilitate transformative changes in the lives of vulnerable people, especially women, through government and the union movement, and partly because Rayner is an awful lot more charismatic than either of the two frontrunners for the leadership. However, for a young politician of such gifts, deputy is a much better position in an election where Labour would require an almost unprecedented swing to retake the reins of power. For the next five years she will get a fairly high profile, an important voice and invaluable time to get more experience, which she still lacks. 

Yet, of course, politics has a way of taking everyone by surprise; Rayner might find that exercising power and managing an unruly party is much harder than she expected, or that the press is quick to tire and the public’s moods are fast to cool. For now, however, it is hard to see anyone with a much brighter future than hers. 

Have you been mis-sold PLP?

Monday 27 Jan – 14.30

Good afternoon!

We have seen a fair few updates to our nominations page thanks to the tireless Jacob Weinbren. This race has the capacity to feel both tremendously slow and yet also regularly surprising, and the map reflects that, with a lot of nominations for Keir Starmer, but a sudden spike in nominations for Nandy – her tally briefly caught up with that of Rebecca Long-Bailey until the latter had a strong Friday night.

Nandy had the best week of the contenders. This was helped by a series of circumstances. Starmer had a personal issue that forced him to stop campaigning for a while, Thornberry had a bad time on Andrew Neil, and Jess Phillips fell through a trapdoor under her feet into the crocodile pit named ‘another successful Will Straw campaign’. But the inescapable reality is that Nandy has proved herself a confident, incisive media performer, and is now officially on the ballot thanks to the GMB nod, along with Starmer and, barring an incredible upset, will be joined by Long-Bailey, who has, as expected, been endorsed by Unite.

One of Nandy’s perceived weaknesses is that she is not known, and that many of the few people that do know her see her as dithering and indecisive, after years shuffling her feet over every possible decision on Brexit, and big talk about “towns” that rarely focuses on solutions. Her good performances are helping to introduce her to people who would otherwise simply go for Starmer, and to attract enough second preferences to make her candidacy more solid than spoiling.  Nandy has been pitching herself as a “brave, not easy” choice, which means she will need to have some answers ready soon for difficult issues – in particular, how she intends to lead on crime and immigration – but so far, she has been managing this tricky balancing act.

Speaking of contentious issues, Rebecca Long-Bailey has come out in favour of endorsing open selections. Now, as so often in Labour conflicts, every side in this is being to some extent disingenuous. Labour really does lag behind most other parties in terms of internal democracy, and the truth is that people treat the left’s attempts to do exactly what their supporters elect them to do – build a wider power base within the party that can support them through government – as illegitimate purges, when they are actually just part of the game, and much better than the option of stitch ups (as the right and soft left have often done in the past).

However, the issue with Long-Bailey’s support is straightforward: who is it for and why? The introduction of open selections is often seen as the ultimate weapon against the nefarious PLP, but the truth is that its main opponents are not sinister Blairites, but concerned unions that understandably do not wish to give up their main lever on power. It’s not clear to me what has changed since the last time they tried to introduce it, especially in light of the oncoming attack that Boris Johnson will inflict on their members, nor is Corbynism’s grasp on the movement particularly strong at the moment. 

The second issue with the proposal is: what does it do for the voters? The main reason that the idea of open selection gained such traction among the membership was that the PLP was seen as hostile saboteurs of the Corbyn project (partly because, well, some of them were, and partly because others got caught up in 2016 coup frenzy). It was meant to be an insurance policy against people who were often quite nasty against members themselves and a perceived Corbyn “goodness”.  But what is the appeal of it against someone such as Starmer, whose main offer is effectively that you can have the 2017 manifesto and none of the infighting? Of course, it could be argued – and it is probably true – that such balance can never be achieved, but it is the offer on the table. It feels odd to promise gasoline to beat someone pitching themselves as a firefighter.

Lastly, then what? What happens after open selections are achieved? There is no frenzy for deselections that could not have been met by the current conditions; and what happened, beyond the noise, was a smattering of unenthused campaigns that did not get a single restanding MP replaced. If Long-Bailey’s plans for office depend on deselecting over a dozen MPs, then we should look forward to a Labour government arriving in about 2030, just in time for complete environmental collapse.

There is a Rebecca Long-Bailey that can beat Keir Starmer: in interviews she is often a fun, warm person, which contrasts with Starmer’s “corporate” image. She is also, crucially, smart and capable of defusing tensions in the party – she skillfully dealt with the unions’ fears around the Green New Deal. This candidate, rather than a slightly unconvincing factional warrior, seems better suited to a membership willing to take their chances on Starmer’s “eat your vegetables, go to bed early” pitch.  It often feels like Long-Bailey and her supporters are doing exactly what Corbynsceptics did for so many years – refusing to engage with the strengths of the campaign currently beating them

Julia Blunck, editor at The Social Review

The Hindenbab disaster
Tues 21 Jan – 15.30

Good afternoon,

The brilliant Jacob Weinbren updated the map so you can see some new nominations – still overwhelmingly Starmer, but some fun surprises on the way.

Speaking of which, Keir Starmer has become the first candidate to officially make the ballot. He did thanks to nabbing the Usdaw endorsement, meaning he does not need to play the CLP game anymore. He is joined by his unofficial running mate Angela Rayner (they have more joint nominations than her actual slate partner, Rebecca Long-Bailey) who continues to be the firmest bet for deputy leader. 

There are interesting signs that the ballot seeing its first qualifiers might be changing how CLPs approach nominations: Emily Thornberry went from zero nominations to two in one day, and it’s been said that the democractic argument helped her to get them. Rosena Allin-Khan and Dawn Butler also got one nomination each, possibly down to that same impulse.

Also looking to get on the ballot through the affiliates route is Lisa Nandy. Getting GMB backing is crucial for her, and failure to do so could be critical for her candidacy. It’s hard to see where she would go from there – the route to CLP nominations through lost seats in the former “red wall” goes through CLPs such as Leigh, and some have already gone for Starmer.

But getting it allows her not just breathing room but confidence; Nandy has been an unexpectedly assured performer in the media, Catalan gaffes aside, and is also the candidate with the most room to grow. If there is to be an upset, it might be her.

Elsewhere in the race, Jess Phillips has pulled out after complaining about the format of the hustings in an article in The Guardian (which has to be read to be believed), where she admitted she had a bad performance, and vowed she wouldn’t try to sound “statesman-like” again. And so she shall, forevermore.  She also said it would be “embarrassing” if Labour failed to elect a woman yet again and suggested it might be time to “pass the mic”.  

It is hard to sympathise with Jess Phillips, not only because of political differences but because her faction’s entire raison d’etre was that they claimed to be able to win a general election where the conditions will be many times worse than anything the Labour membership can come up with. But that doesn’t mean complaints are without merit: the format of the hustings is pretty merciless for someone struggling to break Keir Starmer’s dull spell on the members, or Long-Bailey’s factional charms.  

She is also right about Labour’s huge issue with women. The party is over a hundred years old, and has, at every occasion, rejected every woman that has ran for leadership of the party. It looks set to do it again soon, which is tremendously embarrassing for a party committed to equality. Keir Starmer is benefiting from sexism, whether he wants to or not (he likely does not); his lack of charisma becomes “gravitas”. His famed competency benefits from being assumed to begin with; all the other four women on stage must earn it.  His refusal to define himself could have sunk many other campaigns; so far, for him, has worked out pretty well.

So if you are a woman in this race, you would be pretty right to complain. The issue is, however, that while these complaints are correct, they aren’t excuses. Starmer has so far ran a pretty fair campaign. He neither has the institutional backing (Long-Bailey) nor the years of soft focus by the Murdoch press (Phillips). Perhaps most crucial of all, Starmer is a weak performer at hustings, which means he gets easily overshadowed – and there is one candidate that is almost perfectly placed to take advantage of the fact that she is what people hope Starmer can be.

Which in the end, returns us to the same place we started: despite a lot more difficulties than any of the other four faced, Emily Thornberry was by far the most charismatic person in the room when it counted at the hustings. In the end, that can take you quite far, if you’re the only one who has it.

Julia Blunck, editor