Why The Labour Leadership Could Become A Two-Horse Race On Tuesday

Why The Labour Leadership Could Become A Two-Horse Race On Tuesday

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Keir and present danger

“I can’t believe it.” That was Keir Starmer’s instant reaction to the news that he had become the first name on the formal ballot to become the next Labour leader, following the endorsement of shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

Or rather that was the way he put it in an email to his supporters, saying he would have been amazed if you’d told him “42 years ago when I first joined the Labour party” that he would one day be in the running to lead it.

That line itself was a pointed reminder of his longevity as a party member (he signed up as a Young Socialist at the age of 15) and not some careerist lawyer who tried the political suit on for size in later life.

But Starmer’s missive to members wasn’t some mere humblebrag at getting on the ballot paper, it was a statement of intent. Asking people to sign up straight away as “Team Keir CLP organisers”, he said “if we’re going to win this election [note the ‘we’, not ‘I’], we first need to win as many CLP nominations as we possibly can”.

In theory, to say ‘broaden the debate’ (copyright Margaret Beckett 2015), Starmer could have gone all altruistic and encouraged CLPs to now back other candidates rather than himself. But he rightly knows that frontrunners in politics have a terrible track record and need to ram home every advantage to avoid getting overtaken.‌

Starmer may also have calculated that after that shattering defeat to Boris Johnson what many Labour members want now is a traditionally very non-Labour characteristic: a touch of ruthlessness. His big pitch (and the reason he says he’s running despite admitting the party ought to have a woman leader) is that he’s a winner. And there’s no better way of proving it than winning big in his own party election. 

Of course, Rebecca Long-Bailey is no pushover, as her impressive launch showed last Friday. Tacking working class ‘aspiration’ onto the Corbyn message could prove very popular among members, and her Joe interview proved that she has a sense of humour and warmth if only she can forget the camera is running.

For Jess Phillips, Usdaw’s decision in effect means she can only survive if she clears that big hurdle of 33 nominations from local Labour parties. But don’t forget the most ‘moderate’ contender in 2015, Liz Kendall, won just 18 CLPs. It’s perfectly possible that Starmer (who as of tonight already has 12 to Long-Bailey’s 4) will dominate the CLP nominations as much as he has the MPs and affiliates sections, squeezing out Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry too.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that tomorrow’s hustings before the GMB union could be the most important of Nandy’s life. If she wins its endorsement, she all but gets on the ballot. If the GMB follows Usdaw and Unison to back Starmer, Nandy’s brief but exciting candidacy will probably be over. For all the chatter, we could really be down to a two-horse race by 3pm tomorrow. It would be all over, bar the touting for an unlikely CLP surge.

The GMB has a strong tradition of promoting smart, soft left women (new MP Sarah Owen replaced the legendary late Mary Turner on the NEC until her election to parliament) and with Nandy campaign chair Louise Haigh another alumnus, it could be ‘the women-wot-win-it’. A big endorsement could provide the launchpad she desperately needs to show members she’s a heavyweight figure in this race (remember her ‘preferential strategy’ depends entirely on coming ahead of Long-Bailey, a big ask).

But the GMB’s Central Executive Council (CEC) is made up of 55 ‘lay’ members and they’re proud of the democratic, regional structure. Although there are big Nandy fans (dubbed ‘Nandynistas’ by one party insider who shares my age and knowledge of Latin American leftists) in senior GMB posts, it’s possible that the 55 council members have picked up the same pro-Starmer rank-and-file sentiment as other unions.

And if Starmer clinches the GMB, he really can say he’s already uniting the different wings of the Labour movement. You can also bet there would be another email to party members to get CLPs on board. Thanks to the alternative vote system and all-member meetings, the CLPs nominations in fact could give us a pretty decent proxy for the final result.

With CLP and affiliate deadline closing on Valentine’s Day, by February 14 Starmer could get the clinching love letter from Labour members he clearly desires - a week before the ballot formally opens, and six weeks before the final result is announced.

Quote Of The Day

“Does he think that when the people in so many constituencies in the north lent their votes to the Conservative Party they were longing for more politicians to be sent there?”

Tory peer Lord Forsyth ridicules the idea of a York-based second chamber

Cheat Sheet

The Johnson government has lost its first three votes since the election, as the Lords delivered a triple whammy over its Brexit legislation. Stronger rights for EU nationals and blocking ministers’ power over EU Court of Justice rulings were among the amendments backed by peers.

Boris Johnson met Prince Harry at the Africa summit in London. They had a 20 minute chat without any aides but No.10 said there would be no briefing whatsoever on what was discussed. Guess we will have to wait for Peter Morgan’s imagination in a future episode of Netflix’s The Crown.

Brussels announced the EU will not be ready to open trade talks with the UK on a post-Brexit trade deal before the end of February. With a deal needing ratification to start in say October, and Europe taking August off, that gives us, er, seven months to hammer out one of the most potentially complex trade deals in modern times.‌

The FT revealed that the bill for the HS2 high-speed rail link could soar to £106bn. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he wanted more data.

Tower block owners who refuse to strip out combustible cladding will be named and shamed under new post-Grenfell rules, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said. 

What I’m Reading

Lego Targets Stressed-Out Adults - Washington Post

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.