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12 June 2024

Labour’s next generation

Ahead of the general election, we profile 10 of the party’s brightest new candidates.

By New Statesman

The 1945 general election – at which Clement Attlee’s Labour won a landslide victory – holds the record for the most new MPs elected (51 per cent). On 4 July, this could be surpassed as a remade Labour once again triumphs.

The “Starmtroopers”, as new candidates have been labelled, are sometimes assumed to be identikit Westminster insiders. But the individuals profiled here are striking for their diversity: an Afghan refugee and torture survivor; a Liberian-born economist; a British-Chinese author and former Financial Times journalist; a former RAF pilot and friend of Stephen Lawrence; and a Mercury Music Prize-winning indie musician.

In different ways, they exemplify Keir Starmer’s Labour: one that has transcended past Blairite/Brownite divisions and that champions public service (14 of the party’s candidates have served in the armed forces). Though there are only a handful of candidates from the radical left, a significant number, such as Yuan Yang and Miatta Fahnbulleh, espouse what could be called post-crash economics. They are sceptical of the free market and see the value of the active state. To understand Labour’s future, you need to understand them.
George Eaton

Blair McDougall
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

East Renfrewshire (SNP 2019 majority: 5,426)

As director of Better Together during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Blair McDougall became the unionist most loathed by nationalists. Constantly attacked and abused on social media, the pugnacious campaign chief often gave as good as he got.

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McDougall has made a career as a back-room strategist for Labour – he was chair of Scottish Labour Students, before becoming a special adviser at Westminster during the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years.

Despite being seen as an astute, modern and somewhat ruthless operator, McDougall was criticised by some for Better Together’s focus on negative tactics – it was widely known as “Project Fear” – during the referendum campaign. “We just ignored the commentators, we knew their understanding of the electorate was just wrong,” he has said.

McDougall is highly regarded in Labour circles, and in person is affable and witty. He has a large collection of Labour memorabilia stretching back to the party’s founding.

East Renfrewshire, where he is standing for election, is to the south of Glasgow, has a large middle-class population (it voted heavily for No in 2014), and in recent decades has swung between the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP. It is currently held by the latter, with a majority of 5,426.

Given the expected swing to Labour across Scotland’s central belt, and the unpopularity of the Tories, McDougall is expected to win the seat comfortably. The back-room boy is preparing to step into the front line.
Chris Deerin

Calvin Bailey
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Leyton and Wanstead (Labour 2019 notional majority*: 21,121)

After serving as a distinguished pilot in the Royal Air Force for more than two decades, Calvin Bailey, the Labour candidate for Leyton and Wanstead in east London, recently described himself as being “compelled by service”. Having graduated from Labour’s young leaders programme, Bailey (who received an MBE after supporting humanitarian efforts in Haiti and the Philippines) cites the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, as one of the people who inspired him, because of their similar upbringings, to get into politics.

The Zambia-born south Londoner has a complicated relationship with politics. It stems back to his youth when he was a family friend of Stephen Lawrence, the victim of a racially motivated murder in 1993. Bailey described the lack of a reckoning for the forces and institutions that enable racism within Britain as something that initially “pushed me away from politics”.

As a candidate in one of Labour’s safest seats, Bailey is on the verge of succeeding John Cryer, who has served as chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party for almost a decade. But don’t expect Bailey to follow Cryer’s sometimes rebellious path (the latter was a vocal Brexiteer and a one-time member of the Socialist Campaign Group). As a former military man, Bailey appears keen to follow the orders of Keir Starmer. “[Starmer’s] language is that ‘I’m in charge. This is what we’re going to do,’” Bailey said recently. “It’s really compelling, especially from [the perspective of] a military person.”
Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

Georgia Gould
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Queen’s Park and Maida Vale (New seat)

It would be easy to judge the success of Georgia Gould – Labour’s candidate for Queen’s Park and Maida Vale – by her connections. Gould, 38, is the daughter of the late Philip Gould, one of the architects of New Labour and a brilliant election strategist. Her mother, Gail Rebuck, is a Labour peer and the chair of Penguin Random House. Gould told the Local Government Chronicle last year that she was “out delivering Labour Party leaflets” before she could speak. Her journey into politics is likely more entwined with the party than that of many of her fellow candidates.

But to focus solely on Gould’s connections would be to miss the significance of her selection. A well-established local politician, Gould has led Camden Council since 2017, representing Kentish Town ward since 2010 (residents include Keir Starmer). During her time as leader of Camden, Gould has championed a “mission-driven” approach to council operations, which she developed alongside the UCL-based author and economist Mariana Mazzucato. This style has been adopted by Starmer himself: his five missions for a Labour government are inspired by this thinking.

Under Gould’s leadership, Camden became one of the first local authorities to make use of citizens’ assemblies – a policy recently supported by Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray. Once elected, Gould’s seven years as leader of Camden will make her an MP with comprehensive experience of policy delivery. Her connections may have propelled her towards a life in political service, but her influence is of her own making.
Megan Kenyon

Kirsty McNeill
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Midlothian (SNP 2019 majority: 5,705)

The thing you’re often told when conversation turns to Kirsty McNeill is that she’s one of the brightest people in the Labour Party. “She’s super-capable and has a brain the size of a planet,” a source told me. McNeill was an adviser to Gordon Brown during his time in No 10, where she worked on the UK’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 and beyond.

She grew up in a family with lifelong links to the SNP, and has said that she was “raised by the SNP – all of my earliest memories are being plonked under tables at meetings and being told to fold leaflets, being sent to race nights, to staff tombola stands”. She puts her Labour affiliation down to becoming aware in her teens of the party’s long commitment to addressing class inequality across the UK. She attended Oxford University, where she was president of the Student Union.

McNeill has a broad intellectual hinterland, and has spent many years connected to think tanks – she has chaired the left-leaning IPPR and is attached to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, the Climate Coalition, and the European Council on Foreign Relations. She is also an executive director of Save the Children.

McNeill is standing in Midlothian, formerly a centre of the coal-mining industry and today home to the Roslin Institute (of Dolly the sheep fame), as well as other animal science companies. The SNP won the seat from Labour in 2019 with a majority of just under 6,000, and McNeill’s campaign team expects to take it back on 4 July.
Chris Deerin

Louise Jones
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

North East Derbyshire (Conservative 2019 majority: 12,876)

In August 2021 the BBC broadcast a special edition of Question Time, on Afghanistan. Kabul had fallen to the Taliban a few days before. During the programme, Fiona Bruce picked an audience member, “the lady in the red T-shirt”, to ask the panel a question. The audience member introduced herself as “someone who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2017 and 2018” before speaking movingly about what she and her colleagues had achieved in the country. She told the panel that the Afghans she had supported had already been executed, that her fellow veterans and their families questioned what purpose their sacrifices had served, and demanded a full parliamentary inquiry into the failures of the UK’s military and political leadership. James Cleverly, then the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, could give her no such assurance.

The lady in the red T-shirt was Louise Jones, who trained at Sandhurst and became an intelligence officer in the army, where she served for almost seven years. Jones now works for a private company, McKenzie Intelligence Services, which has provided counter-terrorism training to the Ministry of Defence. Originally from Leicestershire, she is standing in North East Derbyshire, where the Conservative incumbent has a majority of almost 13,000. The seat has returned a Labour MP many times before, however, and polling suggests it may do so again. In an unsettled world, Jones’s history in defence and intelligence could make her an MP to watch – perhaps even a future defence secretary.
Will Dunn

Roh Yakobi
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

The Wrekin (Conservative 2019 notional majority: 21,173)

Stop the boats is the defining motif of the Conservative government’s policy towards asylum seekers. If elected, Roh Yakobi – the Labour candidate for the Wrekin, Shropshire – would bring lived experience to this debate in parliament.

Yakobi, now 37, is a Hazara refugee who fled Afghanistan in 1999 due to ethnic persecution, torture and famine under the Taliban. He was forced to work as a child labourer in Pakistan and Iran for five years, before arriving in the UK in 2004 under Tony Blair’s government. He has lived in Wolverhampton ever since and told the New Statesman of his gratitude to past Labour administrations.

“It was a Labour government that gave me sanctuary and since then I have relied on every institution the party created,” he said. “The NHS saved my life and delivered my children; the welfare state was there when I needed it; the Open University provided me with a world-class education.”

He studied politics, philosophy and economics, and now works as a campaigner and writer on community integration, democracy and human rights. If elected, he wants to focus on child poverty, educational opportunity and health inequalities, after he was denied basic rights as a child. “My values are born out of my lived experiences,” he said. “They haven’t come out of academic textbooks.”

Labour has not won the Wrekin since 2001, the year of Blair’s second landslide victory. But while the Conservatives now enjoy a majority of more than 20,000, their polling collapse means Yakobi could take the seat.
Sarah Dawood

Tom Gray
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Brighton Pavilion (Green 2019 majority: 19,940)

Gomez released their debut album, Bring It On, in 1998, the year after Labour’s landslide victory. The indie band went on to win the Mercury Music Prize that year, meaning the singer and guitarist Tom Gray no longer had time for his politics degree. But now he wants to take Brighton Pavilion from the Green Party.

Gray only considered running after Caroline Lucas, who became its MP in 2010, announced that she would stand down. “I don’t think many people outside of the city realise the Green Party’s reputation – as opposed to Caroline Lucas’s – is really poor here,” he told the New Statesman. When Labour won control of Brighton and Hove council in 2023, Gray said it discovered that the Green council had never formed a net zero plan or made an application for the public sector decarbonisation scheme, which provides grants to fund energy efficiency measures.

His choice of party and location, “is personal”. He has lived in Brighton for 25 years and has been a Labour member since he was 15 – as a teen he licked stamps for Mo Mowlam. His first campaign video was filmed on Brighton beach and focused on sewage pollution. Gray also prioritises mental health, schooling, the creative industries and housing.

Gray hopes three Labour MPs and a Labour council in Brighton, plus a Labour government in Downing Street, would allow “real medium-to-long-term strategy”. While the Greens’ majority of almost 20,000 is formidable, the party’s poor local record means it is vulnerable.
George Monaghan

Miatta Fahnbulleh
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Peckham (Labour 2019 notional majority: 26,553)

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that Miatta Fahnbulleh resolved to enter politics. After the virus exposed the UK’s inequalities, she aspired to rebuild the public realm but saw the country “rebound back to the old normal”.

The former chief executive of the New Economics Foundation was selected to be Labour’s candidate for Peckham in November 2022, succeeding Harriet Harman, who represented the south London constituency of Camberwell and Peckham for 42 years. “She set the gold standard for how to be an MP,” Fahnbulleh told the New Statesman.

For the young Fahnbulleh, inequality was no abstract concept. She was born in Liberia to a Liberian father and a Sierra Leonean mother, and witnessed “excruciating” poverty – “kids not eating for days” – as a kleptocratic elite looted the country’s resources.

Alongside her candidacy in Peckham, Fahnbulleh, 44, has served as a senior economic adviser to both Angela Rayner (on housing and levelling up) and Ed Miliband (on energy). She argues that a Labour government will be more radical than many anticipate.

“People often say that we’re not progressive enough, we’re not doing enough. But I give you the New Deal for Workers; our Green Prosperity Plan; the national wealth fund that we’ve never had before; taking the railways into public ownership; and refranchising the bus network. These are big, big interventions in the economy… I think we will deliver that and more, not least because the inheritance we are facing will require us to.”
George Eaton

Yuan Yang
llustration by Ellie Foreman Peck

Earley and Woodley (New seat)

There are few Labour candidates with a journey as distinctive as Yuan Yang’s. The former Financial Times journalist was born in China and raised at the foot of Mount Emei, the site of the country’s first Buddhist temple. After moving to England at the age of four, she did not return until more than two decades later and discovered a transformed country.

“If you’re alive in China now you have seen generational changes in the economy and society that in the UK would have taken over 150 years to play out,” she told the New Statesman following the publication of her recent book Private Revolutions.

Like many of her generation, Yang, 33, was politicised by the 2008 financial crisis and the austerity imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. She co-founded the student group Rethinking Economics after being dismayed by the narrowness of the curriculum during her time at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.

Earley and Woodley, near Reading, which polls project Yang will win, is emblematic of the reddening of suburbs in the south-east. The new constituency includes part of what was once Theresa May’s Maidenhead seat – May would become Yang’s constituent – and ultra-free-marketeer John Redwood’s Wokingham seat. A younger, more diverse population is moving such areas to the left.

“In a democracy we get to chuck the old guard out and get in a group of new people,” Yang reflected. “It’s an unimaginable luxury in China that we shouldn’t take for granted.”
George Eaton

Hamish Falconer

Lincoln (Conservative 2019 notional majority: 3,514)

In the summer of 2021, as Kabul fell to the Taliban, Hamish Falconer was working in the Foreign Office and immersed in hostage negotiations. It was during this fraught period that friends in the East Midlands seat of Lincoln first encouraged him to stand.

“They saw me as young enough for the students and quasi-military enough for the RAF,” Falconer, 38, quipped in an interview with the New Statesman (the seat includes RAF Waddington, one of the largest air force stations). 

Falconer’s decade at the Foreign Office, where he led the Terrorism Response Team and served in Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Sudan, revealed to him the intersection between foreign and domestic questions. 

“What should we do about Huawei? Should we let Chinese state companies invest in quantam computing spin-outs in Cambridge? The extent to which these industrial questions are informed by our foreign policy is underestimated.

“The British state is going to have to intervene more in the economy in the future than it has at any point in the past whether it’s because of national security or climate change.”

Falconer’s father, Charlie, is a Labour and legal grandee, who served as Tony Blair’s Lord Chancellor from 2003-07 and as Keir Starmer’s first shadow attorney general. “Of course you’re nervous about just following in your father’s footsteps but I feel so proud of what he did,” said Falconer.

In common with most candidates in Tory marginals, he can be confident of victory. Lincoln, often an election bellwether, was held by Labour as recently as 2017 and polls predict an emphatic majority for Falconer. 

George Eaton

* Notional majority calculations below are based on how constituencies would have voted in 2019 before the boundary changes of the 2024 election

[See also: What a historic Labour win will mean for Britain]

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This article appears in the 12 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The hard-right insurgency