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9 January 2020

Evening Call: Is Keir Starmer moving into pole position?

Labour looks to its other comfort zone.

By Jonn Elledge

Strange, in its way, how quickly things can change. Only a few days ago, it felt like Rebecca Long-Bailey was the one to beat in the Labour leadership race. She was, after all, the candidate of the left, Corbyn and McDonnell’s anointed successor – even if, whatever her talents, the shadow business secretary is not exactly a household name.

Now, though, it increasingly feels like Keir Starmer is running away with it. Last night, Unison, the UK’s largest trade union – generally regarded as a swing voter in Labour contests – threw its weight behind the shadow Brexit secretary. This is not unalloyed good news, Stephen noted last night – it means the contest will probably be a two-horse race, which could unify the left behind Long-Bailey – but nonetheless it means that Starmer is suddenly the favourite.

There are three months until voting closes, and things could change. But it seems like maybe, for all the talk of the next leader needing to be a woman or someone from outside London, Labour is returning to its other comfort zone: not the candidate of the left, but the one who looks a bit like the vast majority of the people who have ever been prime minister of the United Kingdom. We shall see.

Elsewhere on the European left, the centre-left Socialist and far-left Unidas Podemos parties are to form Spain’s first coalition government since the pre-Franco era (which is, history fans will recall, going back a bit). If it overcomes domestic instability, argues Jeremy Cliffe, the new government could yet reshape the EU.

Good day for…

Escaping scrutiny. The aforementioned Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the bill at the heart of so many of the most dramatic political moments of the last year, events which felt Like Watching History Happen as we all stared agog at BBC Parliament late into the night – has just passed its third reading in the Commons, and moved on to the Lords. And this time, notes George Grylls, nobody is watching. It’s a very strange turnaround.

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Bad day for…

Historical realism. Our other George, George Eaton, has written a lovely piece on the absurdity of hailing the return of the “Roaring Twenties”. “For the UK,” he writes, “the 1920s were a decade of profound economic pain and political conflict. The current decade may be little better.” I’m looking forward to the next general strike, mind.

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Quote of the day

“We highly value international student exchanges.”

Higher education minister Chris Skidmore, defending the Tories’ decision to vote down a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which would have required the government to ensure the UK could continue its participation in Erasmus+ – the exchange programme which allows British students to study abroad. The government maintains it is committed to the programme – it just doesn’t want its hands tied on that particular bill. Hmmm.

Everybody’s talking about…

The absolutely incredible affair in which Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle put out a statement announced they were effectively quitting the royal family, apparently without mentioning this to the rest of said family first, leading to a statement from the latter saying that no decision had yet been made and that they were very hurt. Amazing scenes.

My own personal favourite touch: the line in the first statement stressing that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would “continue to fully support Her Majesty The Queen”, as if there’s an alternate version of this story in which Harry comes out as a Jacobite or something.

Anyway. Anoosh has written a fabulous piece asking whether the royal couple can really ever be “progressive”. You should read it.

Everybody should be talking about…

The fact the internet has broken all our ability to read anything long-form and we should probably be working on fixing that somehow. If you’re looking for some inspiration, in this week’s magazine our deputy editor Tom Gatti has rounded up the books you should read in 2020, taking in everything from the end of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy to the end of the world.