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Labour leadership: neither “LOTO continuity” nor “back to Blair”!

Submitted by AWL on 18 December, 2019 - 11:58 Author: Sacha Ismail
Potential candidates

Labour Party general secretary Jennie Formby has written to the National Executive Committee proposing the process of electing a new leader and deputy leader should begin on 7 January and conclude by the end of March.

Under new rules agreed since the last leadership election, to get on the ballot paper candidates need nominations from 10% of MPs (21) plus either 5% of constituency parties (33) or 5% of affiliated organisations by conference voting strength, two of which must be trade unions.

Since the Parliamentary Labour Party is still much more right-wing than the party membership, that may make it difficult for left candidates.

Shadow minister for sustainable economics Clive Lewis (MP for Norwich South) was one of the founders of the Love Socialism Hate Brexit group of left-leaning anti-Brexit MPs. On most of the issues dividing the candidates so far rumoured, he is by far the best from the standpoint of the class-struggle, internationalist, socialist left.

One issue is his previously-stated support for “progressive alliances”, including even with the Lib Dems. We hope he will stand but ditch this position.

As we go to press, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford & Eccles) and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) have said they will run as a leader-deputy team. Other combinations mentioned include Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, and yet others mentioned for the leadership, deputy leadership, or both, include Dawn Butler, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Yvette Cooper and Richard Burgon.

We should not back candidates just because they are promoted as “left” by the Leader’s Office (referred to as LOTO), the top officials of Unite, and the Morning Star. That kind of Stalinist-tinged “left” has discredited both itself and the Labour Party more widely on the issues of Brexit and antisemitism. It has been radically deficient on opening up democracy in the Labour Party, and evasive on crucial issues like free movement, repealing the anti-union laws and even questions like reversing academisation (semi-privatisation) of schools.

We should judge by politics.

Key issues include Brexit (fighting the Tories every inch of the way); free movement and migrants’ rights; at least defence of the left-wing elements of the manifesto on reversing cuts and on public ownership; the climate crisis; maintaining openings towards party democracy and enlarging them; tackling antisemitism; and support for working-class struggles.

Rebecca Long-Bailey has been hailed for some time as a “Corbynite continuity” candidate. She is clearly on the Labour left, but has no record prior to 2015 identifying her as more than “soft” left. Most recently, her role in the debates around the Green New Deal motions at Labour Party conference was pretty conservative.

She described herself in one of the televised national election debates as a “good Catholic”, and has been absent from most votes on abortion rights since her election in 2017. She did, however, vote in favour of extension of same-sex marriage and abortion rights to Northern Ireland in July 2019. On her own description she was “completely against” a second referendum on Brexit until October 2019: she has certainly not spoken out against Brexit like Lewis and some other candidates.

She looks like the candidate who would best allow LOTO, round Seamus Milne, and the top officials of the Unite union, to keep their grip.

Angela Rayner is billed to run as deputy for Long-Bailey. She describes herself as “soft left”. Unlike her running mate she failed to join the rebellion when Labour abstained on the Tories' Welfare Reform Bill in 2015, and she backed Andy Burnham to be leader. However, she did not join the coup against Corbyn in 2016. She is also widely described as pro-Brexit.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer (Holborn & St Pancras), abstained on the Welfare Reform Bill and nominated Burnham in 2015, and backed the coup in 2016, but since then has allied with Corbyn and McDonnell - other than being more anti-Brexit, a stance which has won him top place in LabourList’s surveys of leading Labour figures’ popularity among members. He has wavered on free movement.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury) has been an MP since 2005, longer than most of the others. She nominated Corbyn in both leadership elections. Her politics have been soft left, including opposition to Trident. She went the wrong way in the 2015 Welfare Reform Bill vote too.

A Remainer, though she has also wavered on free movement. She is outspoken against antisemitism; and unusual among Labour MPs in having supported and spoken at demonstrations for Palestinian rights, and then used her speech to denounce Hamas and support Israel’s right to exist as well as Palestinian self-determination.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) was once a rising star of the soft left, but she co-chaired Owen Smith’s right-wing campaign to oust Corbyn in 2016. Nandy’s pitch has been that a pro-Brexit position is necessary to rebuild support among blue-collar voters in smaller towns and deindustrialised areas of the North and Midlands. She is the chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, and has spoken out against antisemitism in Labour.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford) was prominent under Blair Brown and Miliband, and stood against Corbyn for leader in 2015. She has been quite effective against the Tories over various issues, including refugees, but is an oldschool right-winger.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley) is an extravagantly self-promoting right-winger whose viciousness towards Corbyn, his supporters and the whole left contrasts with a warm friendship with Jacob Rees-Mogg. She has also stood against Brexit, against antisemitism, and in defence of LGBT-positive education in Birmingham schools.

Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Dawn Butler (Brent Central) is standing for deputy leader. Like Emily Thornberry, Butler first became an MP in 2005. Much more than Thornberry, she was an obedient supporter of the Blair-Brown leadership. Since 2015 she has reinvented herself, nominating Corbyn in both leadership elections. She did rebel against the Welfare Reform Bill. She has made anti-Brexit and pro-free movement gestures, saying that in the event of another referendum she would campaign to Remain.

Before the Long-Bailey/Rayner partnership was announced, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon (Leeds East) said he wanted to be Long-Bailey’s deputy candidate. He is a frequent contributor to the Morning Star.

A majority of the new Parliamentary Labour Party (104/203) is female, but the party has never had a female leader, so there will be strong pressure for a woman as leader.

Some pro-Brexit people claim that no London – or worse, North London! – MP should be considered as leader. Given that large numbers of ex-Labour voters have just voted for a Tory party led by an Eton- and Oxford-educated London MP who is most definitely part of the “metropolitan elite”, it’s hard to follow this point too far.

Lisa Nandy pitches herself as a voice for the Northern working class but, political problems aside, is from a fairly well-off background (her grandfather was the Liberal Party’s leader in the House of Lords for two decades). All the others except Cooper are from working-class or not-well-off backgrounds, even Starmer and Thornberry, though Rayner, Long-Bailey and Lewis more so.

Angela Rayner was a workplace Unison activist, then a branch secretary on full-time release, then a union official, before becoming an MP. None of the other potential candidates were workplace trade union activists at any time close to their election, if at all.

If Nandy, Butler or Lewis is elected they will be the party’s first black or minority-ethnic leader or deputy.

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