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Labour’s class of 2022: who are they are and what they think

The next crop of Labour MPs are largely, but not wholly, Corbynites—and they're nervous about a second referendum.

By Eleni Courea

Whether the next election is held in 2022 or 2019, Labour is preparing to hit the ground running. It has so far selected parliamentary candidates in the 99 marginal seats where it needs to gain fewer than 10,000 votes to win.

These are the people who, if Labour forms the government, will be its new class of MPs. But who are they, and what are their politics?

Professionally, they’re not that different from current Labour MPs

The candidates come from all the sorts of professions that typically tend to produce Labour MPs: teachers, postal workers, union officials, lawyers, public sector workers.

Peter Chowney, a formal teacher and local government official, is attempting to unseat Amber Rudd in Hastings and Rye: “I came from a working class background, and was the first person in my family to go to university,” he said. “My parents weren’t especially political, but the deep inequalities of class, race and gender that I’d grown up with […] made Labour my natural home.”

Sarah Church, a former army major, is standing in Swindon South and works for a green tech startup. “I don’t believe in small government, I’m a massive fan of public services,” she said. “We need schools, hospitals, jobs in the local economy. I have three kids who go to a state school and the local GP.”

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Peter Lamb, who is contesting Crawley where he leads the borough council, said he was “sick and tired of seeing vulnerable people suffer and services get cut in my community when there is an alternative. Austerity is a choice, and it’s time we gave people back the services they depend upon.”

If you want to get selected, it helps to be in with Unite

Overall, about two-thirds of the successful candidates were backed by Unite, the party’s biggest union and the one most closely linked to the Labour leadership, and one-third by the Corbynite pressure group Momentum. Sometimes Unite and Momentum threw their weight behind the same people; sometimes they didn’t. In some cases, maverick candidates beat union- and shadow cabinet-backed favourites to become the PPCs.

A good chunk of the candidates are Corbynites…

Regardless of who backed them, most of the candidates are committed Corbynites. If Labour gains seats at the next election, its new intake of MPs will provide some additional support for Corbyn within the parliamentary Labour party.

One candidate who has been a Labour member for decades said he is delighted with Corbyn’s leadership and points out that he spent years knocking on doors for Tony Blair, even though he didn’t agree with his policies. “We never undermined the leadership. I find the behaviour of current Labour MPs frustrating.” Another candidate on the left of the party said “there’s no doubt on the doorstep” about Corbyn’s appeal to voters.

Momentum’s strategy has been to drum up publicity for its candidates who are seeking to unseat Tory big hitters, even if they aren’t in the most marginal seats. They include Faiza Shaheen in Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency Chingford and Woodford Green, and Ali Milani in Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

…and those who aren’t are Corbyn conformers

There’s a solid caucus of soft leftists and mild Corbynsceptics who are nevertheless contesting important seats. Unlike many existing MPs who are sitting out his leadership hoping that he will eventually be replaced by someone further on the right, candidates who aren’t his natural allies say they are willing to get behind the Labour leader.  

“I’m on the soft left, the Lisa Nandy left,” one candidate says. “I would have supported Ed Miliband in the leadership contest. Jeremy is someone you can rely on to honour his commitments, but I’m not sure he has the capacity to lead the country. Then again, I don’t know who has. So he’s got my personal support as leader of the Labour Party.”

Another candidate on the soft left said that she didn’t want to have endless discussions about liking or not liking Corbyn. “We wouldn’t agree on everything. We would probably have a good debate about foreign policy, and I found it frustrating that he didn’t act more quickly or decisively on antisemitism. But if someone has inspired half a million people to join a political party, that’s not something to be sniffed at.”

A sure sign that the next crop of Labour MPs won’t all be on the left is that Momentum itself has sometimes been pragmatic about who it supports. For example, it backed Josh Fenton Glynn for the selection in Calder Valley (majority 609), even though he had been critical of Corbyn in 2016.

They’re nervous about a second Brexit referendum

Anyone who thinks a general election will break the political deadlock will think again when they see that candidates’ views on Brexit are divided—largely in reflection of their constituents. Any Tory Brexiteers who lose their Leave-voting seats will most likely be replaced by Labour MPs who pledge to some extent to honour the referendum result in their manifesto.  

One candidate in a Leave-voting area says a second referendum is causing an even greater schism. “It will be bloody. We could have had a customs union, cut our losses and not have civil unrest.” Nevertheless, she adds that it’s a better final resort than no deal. “That would be devastating in an area like this.”

Several candidates said they’d met people on the doorstep who warned that if there is a second referendum, they’ll never vote in another election egain. “A second vote may be the least worst option, but I’m less and less enthusiastic about it as time goes by,” one said. “It’s going to be very damaging to people’s faith in democracy. A whole generation of voters would be totally lost. But maybe that’s the only option.”

They’re fans of the 2017 manifesto

Whether they’re Corbynites or Corbyn conformers, the candidates by and large sing the praises of the 2017 manifesto. “If you analyse why people voted Labour it was the policies that we put forward,” one person said. “People liked the policies,” another agreed. “There was great stuff in our manifesto last time round,” according to a third. “When you explained it to people, you got the ‘nod factor’ on the doorstep. They were policies that would have a positive impact on people’s lives.” They consider it a major vote-winner, and rest their hopes on there being a similar offering next time round.