Who is running in the Labour Leadership Election and how will the new leader be chosen?

Background to the contest

Labour’s General Election result was worst the party had experienced since 1935. With just 202 seats, Labour lost 60 seats from the 2017 General Election. Many of these seats that the Conservatives won from Labour were in the traditional Labour heartlands.

The 2019 Election saw Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ in the North decimated by the Conservatives.

Many seats that voted Conservative in the 2019 election did so for the very first in generations, these included:

Rother Valley – A Labour seat since 1918.

Don Valley – A Labour seat since 1922.

Sedgefield – Tony Blair’s former seat, which had been held by Labour since 1935 (although it was abolished between 1974 and 1983).

It was immediately clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader was untenable and it was announced that a leadership contest would take place.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s position on Brexit have been cited a the two main reasons for the electoral disaster of the 12th December 2019.

The Rules for nomination

To stand in the election candidates need to receive the support of at least 10% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (Labour MPs) and Parliamentary European Labour Party (Labour’s MEPs). In addition, they needed to be nominated by either:

5% of Constituency Labour Parties


Three Affiliate Organisations (like Trade Unions) whose total membership includes at least 5% of party membership.

Who are the contenders?

The candidates who have passed the nomination threshold and have announced their candidacy are:

Rebecca Long-Bailey – Long-Bailey is seen by Corbynites as the heir to Jeremy Corbyn. She served under Corybn as Shadow Business Secretary and stood in for Corbyn at Leadership Debates in the General Election. She has the support of senior Corbyn supporters like Diane Abbot and John McDonnell and the left-wing faction Momentum. She can rely on Momentum launching a huge push on social media for her candidacy.

Emily Thornberry – Thornberry has served as Shadow Foreign Secretary since 2016. She has been publicly loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, but has long been suspected on having private doubts over his leadership and his ability to deliver an electoral victory. Thornberry has focused on her ability to take on Boris Johnson when she shadowed him when he was Foreign Secretary and has presented herself as the voice of experience in the campaign.

Keir Starmer – Starmer is a Barrister by profession and was Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013. It was always envisaged that Starmer might run for the leadership one day. His biggest problem might be that he is largely responsible for the parties disastrous position on Brexit during the 2019 Election. He will have to work hard to convince Labour Leave Voters that he is the right man to lead the party.

Lisa Nandy – Nandy has been MP for Wigan since 2010. She has been very critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and believes the Labour Party has become to London-centric. Nandy had been tipped to run for the leadership in 2015, however, she had a young son and was not able to do this. Nandy is far more centrist than the party has moved under Jeremy Corbyn.

Jess Phillips – Phillips has become one of the Labour Party’s most recognisable backbench MPs. She is currently the MP for Birmingham Yardly and has been a passionate campaigner in his constituency. For example, she has strongly supported Parkfield Community Primary School in Birmingham which has been inundated with protests for introducing an LGBT+ program. Phillips has been extremely critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, particularly over the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

The Election Process

The election will take place on a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) basis. The voting system used will be the Alternative Vote, whereby voters can vote by preference. This means that the votes of the lowest ranked candidate (who is eliminated after each round) can be reassigned. Importantly, the Alternative Vote means that a candidate will only be declared when they have a majority of votes.

The electorate in the Labour Party Elections is made up of the following groups:

  • Members of the Labour Party
  • Members of Labour Affiliated Groups (e.g the Unite Trade Union)
  • Registered Supporters of the Labour Party

Importantly, this is a major change from former Labour Leadership elections. Before 2015, and Electoral College chose the leader, with each college (group) given a third of the weight. The groups were:

  • The Parliamentary Labour Party and European Parliamentary Labour Party
  • Labour Party Members
  • Affiliated Groups (Trade Unions)

This system was criticised for being somewhat undemocratic because it gave too much power to Trade Unions and the Parliamentary Party, who were much smaller in number than Labour Party Members. 

However, one problem of the change was that it led to accusations that people were able to ‘buy a vote’. In the 2015 Leadership Election, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader, it cost just £3 to register as a support of the party and therefore vote. The Party was therefore flooded with left-wing supporters, keen to ensure a Jeremy Corbyn victory. At this election, it costs £25, rather than £3, to become a party supporter and be able to vote.

Those that joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn are largely still members and will vote in the Labour leadership election.

Voting in the election opens on 21st February and closes on the 2nd April. The winner will be elected on 4th April.

Who are the likely winners?

Keir Starmer comfortably secured the most nominations with 88 MP/MEP nominations, 2 affiliates and 10 constituency Labour Parties. However, the legacy of the 2015 campaign overhangs this election. That campaign, and the influx of members it bought, moved the Labour Party heavily to the left. The Labour Party currently has around 520k members, many of whom joined in the 2015 influx. Therefore, whilst Starmer is clearly the preferred candidate of parliamentarians, a recent poll by Survation places Rebecca Long-Bailey on 42% with party members, whilst Starmer is on 37%. The challenge for Starmer is how far left on the political spectrum he presents himself in the election.

It is hard to see beyond Starmer and Long-Bailey in the contest. However, in third place in current polls is Lisa Nandy. She has the advantage of not having been part of the Shadow Cabinet under Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign (she resigned in protest at Corybyn’s leadership in 2016). In addition, she is a northern MP (Wigan) who strongly opposed the ‘Second Referendum’ position of the Labour Party. Nandy consistently warned that this served to alienate Northern Labour voters who were key to the Leave victory  in June 2016. Nandy is likely to be a strong runner in the election.

No party has overturned a majority of 80 in a single election. The process of trying to return the Labour Party is likely to be a two election process. However, the start of that process will be on April 4th, when the new Labour Leader begins to shape its direction.

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