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What does Jeremy Corbyn’s success mean for the Labour leadership race?

The party is divided over whether the presence of the left-winger on the ballot will help or hinder it.

By George Eaton

Minutes before Big Ben struck 12, Jeremy Corbyn secured the 35 nominations he needed to make the Labour leadership ballot. The Islington North MP becomes the most left-wing candidate to contest such an election since Tony Benn stood against Neil Kinnock in 1988. A number of those who nominated Corbyn, such as Sadiq Khan and David Lammy, stated in advance that they did not intend to vote for him but believed his presence was necessary to ensure a full debate.

The Labour left, which failed to get John McDonell onto the ballot in 2007 and 2010, is understandly jubilant. Others on the centre-left believe his candidacy will help preserve party unity, while some on the right of the party also welcome Corbyn’s success. For them, it is vital that the left is defeated in plain sight. “They’ll find it harder to attack the new leader afterwards,” one Blairite MP told me.  

But others fear that Corbyn’s presence will distort the debate and distract from the question of which candidate is the most electable. Important time will be wasted, they fear, on contenders arguing over policy stances, such as an end to austerity and the abandonment of Trident, that no Labour leader would advocate. Jonny Reynolds, a Liz Kendall supporter, told me: “If we don’t take ourselves seriously no-one else will. There is obviously no way Jeremy can win a general election and I think we have let down all those people who desperately need Labour to be an electable alternative to the Tories”. Others warn he could he exceed expectations and force the other candidates to make concessions to the left. 

The question remains which candidate will benefit most from Corbyn. Andy Burnham, the frontrunner, could gain as Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper find it harder to characterise him as the “left-wing candidate” and he picks up second preferences from Corbyn supporters (who would not have turned out otherwise). Several of those who nominated the backbencher told me that they wanted him to endorse Burnham to ensure that the party does not end up with “the wrong result”. But Burnham could also suffer as his left-leaning pitch loses distinction when set against “the real thing” (as one Cooper supporter put it). Kendall and Cooper, either of whom would be Labour’s first female leader, and who offer “change” and “experience” respectively, could yet benefit most. 

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