Sir Keir Starmer is undoubtedly the frontrunner in the upcoming Labour leadership election, with 86 Labour MPs and MEPs endorsing his bid to become leader of the opposition, 53 more endorsements than his next previous challenger. Sitting as a frontbencher as Brexit Secretary in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, he is a well known figure to much of the public and liked among Labour supporters too, with a recent YouGov poll finding that ‘36% of the membership said their top preference was Keir Starmer, 13 points ahead of Rebecca Long-Bailey on 23%’. The former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) gets much of the media attention, but who are the figures challenging him in this leadership race, and can they pull of an upset like Jeremy Corbyn did in 2015?
The candidate currently closest to challenge Keir Starmer for the Labour leadership, Rebecca Long-Bailey was born in Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, and her father was a former dock worker. She was selected to be Labour’s candidate for the Salford and Eccles seat at the 2015 general election from an all-women shortlist, and was one of the 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership in 2015, and was made shadow Treasury Minister and joined his frontbench team following his leadership election win.
Seen as the most ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate out of those running, she has been recently criticised for giving Mr Corbyn a 10/10 as leader of the Labour Party, despite leading Labour to the worst electoral performance since 1935 in 2019, showing that perhaps she is too closely aligned with the Corbyn project and is unable to adapt and change her policy positions when needed. Being from the Corbyn faction of the Labour Party will be challenging for Long-Bailey if she manages to become leader too, as the tabloids will be quick to criticise her for being a close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell.
A candidate with a body of ideas rather than deep institutional support, Lisa Nandy is a young and relatively new MP who has represented the constituency of Wigan since 2010. Unknown to a lot of the members of the Labour Party let alone the wider electorate, her weaknesses are obvious. She has not held any positions of great responsibility within the Labour Party, although during Corbyn’s leadership Nandy was energy spokeswoman for the party but resigned in protest following the 2016 EU referendum, stating that she believed Corbyn was ‘unable to form a broad, inclusive shadow cabinet’, and subsequently co-chaired Owen Smith’s leadership challenge in 2016.
On the issue of Brexit, she supported remain in the referendum, but was opposed to the idea of a second referendum or revoking the Brexit process, showing that potentially she could be the leader that both Brexiteers and Remainers could support and get behind. Furthermore, in 2018 she helped set up Centre for Towns, which is a think tank driven by the belief that more investment and priority needs to be paid to local towns rather than the big metropolitan cities like London or Manchester. In this leadership election, she is pitching herself as the candidate who can win back the trust of the Northern voters and repair Labour’s ‘red wall’, but perhaps at the moment she is simply too inexperienced to become the leader of the opposition and lacks the wider support needed to win.