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3 January 2019

Jeremy Corbyn’s successor may be more establishment than you expect

Labour members may be loyal to Jezza, but they have some surprising preferences when it comes to his possible successor. 

By Tim Bale

Those who sign off their tweets with #JC4PM2019 may find it difficult to contemplate but sometime, somehow, their man will eventually have to give way to a successor. It may not happen soon. But it will happen. No one, least of all the leader of a political party, goes on forever. So who’s really in the running to replace Jeremy when he goes?

Some clues are provided by the ESRC-funded Party Members Project run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, which surveyed 1,034 Labour Party members between 17 and 21 December and a total of 1,675 voters between 18-19 December, 428 of whom who were intending to vote Labour.

Respondents were asked the following question: If Jeremy Corbyn were to stand down as Labour Party leader, who would you most like to see replace him as Labour Leader? Quite deliberately, so as to avoid closing down options, neither group was presented with a pre-determined list of candidates but was instead asked to write in a name, and they were of course free to say that they didn’t know or weren’t sure etc.

The table below gives the results based on the write-in responses of the 334 Labour voters and 959 Labour members who decided to answer the question. It leaves out all those names that received only a handful (or fewer) of mentions – unless, like Sadiq Khan or Tom Watson they are in supposedly high-profile jobs (Mayor of London and deputy leader) or, like Rebecca Long-Bailey and Clive Lewis, they are sometimes tipped as leadership contenders (or at least hopefuls). 


Labour Voters

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Labour Members


Keir Starmer



John McDonnell



Emily Thornberry



Don’t Know



Yvette Cooper



Chuka Umunna



Angela Rayner



Diane Abbott



Rebecca Long-Bailey



Tom Watson



Sadiq Khan



Clive Lewis



“High-profile” here has to be used in the broadest of senses – indeed, the low ratings of one or two of the shadow cabinet members included is in some ways testament to what some see as the paucity of big beasts around him. It is noticeable that both Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper, neither of whom serves under Corbyn, do better than many of those who do. 

There are only three names that beat “Don’t Know” – still very much the odds-on favourite among Labour voters rather than Labour members. Nine out of ten of the latter at least felt able to name someone (or in a few cases tell us in no uncertain terms that JC must stay!).

Those who reckon that shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry stands a chance of becoming the party’s first elected female leader may not be entirely wrong, since it’s hard to imagine Labour’s very left-wing and socially-liberal membership plumping for Yvette Cooper, and shadow education Secretary Angela Rayner would need to make up a fair amount of ground (by no means impossible but still….).

Shadow chancellor, and all-round power-behind-the-throne, John McDonnell also looks to be in with a shout should his friend fall under the proverbial bus – even though our survey shows that many voters and members can’t quite get his surname right yet.

But the front-runner – if one can really be said to be a front-runner with the support of just shy of one in five Labour members – is Sir Keir Starmer. Presumably his pro-referendum (and, it is probably fair to assume, pro-Remain) stance, which was so much in evidence at Labour’s last conference in Liverpool, is earning him serious brownie points among a Labour membership that, our data shows, is very much singing from the same anti-Brexit hymn sheet.

Those who think, then, that Corbyn will automatically be replaced by someone in his own anti-establishment image may need to think again. If our survey is a straw in the wind, then Labour, post-Corbyn, may find itself led for the very first time, not by a woman or by an ethnic minority politician, but instead by a knight of the realm.

Tim Bale is professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London