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13 January 2020updated 14 Jan 2020 11:37am

Five MPs have made it to the next stage of the Labour leadership race. What happens next?

Emily Thornberry has joined Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer in the contest's next stage.

By Stephen Bush

Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry have cleared the first stage of the Labour leadership contest, picking up the nominations of 10 per cent or more of the Parliamentary Labour Party. In the race for the deputy post, joining Angela Rayner in the next stage are Ian Murray, Dawn Butler, Richard Burgon and Rosena Allin-Khan.  

But to make the contest proper, they must pick up additional nominations from the party in the country: either via the trades unions and affiliated societies or Constituency Labour Parties (CLP).

What does this stage of the contest reveal about the Parliamentary Labour Party, MPs, and their chances of making it to the final, one-member, one vote, stage of the contest?

Lent nominations haven’t gone away, but they have changed

The defining moment in Labour politics in recent years was the decision of 20 Labour MPs to sign Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination papers despite not supporting him for the leader; in the case of 15 of them, despite the fact that they not only did not support him but had no intention of serving in his frontbench or supporting his policies were he elected.

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They did so for a variety of reasons: to keep their constituency parties happy, to maximise their hopes of winning the London mayoral nomination, and to prevent Andy Burnham winning the Labour leadership election, but the combined effect was to remove meaningful power within the party from the party’s MPs and ensure that the next four years would be dominated by instability and civil war.

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There have been a few lent nominations in this contest, but they are of a very different flavour. None of the MPs to lend support to get Emily Thornberry on the ballot would regard her election as leader as a disaster for the party or the country, while in the deputy race, the ideological difference between Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler and Angela Rayner, the overwhelming preferred option among the PLP, is pretty negligible.

20 of the MPs to back Richard Burgon, the preferred candidate of the Corbynite elite within the Parliamentary Labour Party, also supported Rebecca Long-Bailey, while Claude Moraes, an MEP, and Mohamed Yasin, the MP for Bedford, are backing Starmer for the leadership. A minority of MPs are still lending their nomination, but the ideological gulf they are bridging to do so is much smaller.

Emily Thornberry’s survival complicates the next stage

The really important thing to remember about the Labour leadership election is that the party has never used this system of nomination before and it is far from clear how the party’s grassroots will behave.

Looking at the pattern of CLP nominations in the past, it is very tricky to see how Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy or Emily Thornberry will get onto the ballot given their relatively low level of support in the party grassroots at present.

But in the past, CLP nominations have been non-binding displays of support which members used to express their feeling about who they wanted to win – they have, as a result, been a pretty accurate gauge of how the membership will behave in the contest proper for as long as the rank-and-file has had a vote.

It may be however that CLPs try to prioritise as broad a field of candidates as possible, which might maximise the chances that would-be candidates have of getting the 32 nominations they need via that route.

But either way, that Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry are near-certain to need to go via this route to make it to the contest proper, while in the deputy race only Angela Rayner can be certain of getting on via the affiliate route (though Burgon has a good shot)  means that it will be a congested race to get on via the CLP path.

That could complicate Phillips’s hopes of making the contest proper. It is problematic for Nandy but less so because…

Lisa Nandy has a serious alternative path to the ballot

Lisa Nandy has a similar version of the problem that beset Cory Booker, who has just dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States: she is well-known by political insiders but not well-known by the party at large. That makes it very tricky for her to get through to the ballot via the constituency party nomination route, particularly because the media organisations that reach swing Labour members – the BBC, the Guardian and the – are not falling over themselves to do “Who is Lisa Nandy?” profiles.

But what about the affiliate route? It’s striking that across her nominations, Nandy has drawn heavily from the ranks of MPs who owe their selection, at least in part, to their political proximity to the GMB trades union, whose backing would put her on the verge of qualifying via that route. I’ve heard from several well-placed sources in the GMB that the union is all but certain to nominate Nandy.

That, in turn, probably maximises the chances that Phillips and Thornberry can get on via the constituency route.