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20 November 2019updated 09 Jul 2021 7:30am

Labour’s northern frontbenchers are getting more of the limelight – but is it too late?

By George Grylls

It is no coincidence that two northern politicians were chosen to represent Labour in recent TV debates. The prominence afforded to Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey — candidates for Leeds East and Salford and Eccles respectively — is indicative of the party’s concerns about its heartlands.

The Tories are looking to win a majority by picking up seats in predominantly leave-voting areas from South Yorkshire all the way across to Denbighshire. MRP analysis of YouGov polling showed last week that this strategy seems by and large to be working.

In response Labour will have to break the perception that it is a London-centric party. That is a tall order with just over a week until polling day. The shadow cabinet speaks for itself. All four great offices of state (as well as the increasingly important Brexit secretary) are shadowed by candidates contesting constituencies within the M25 — Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, John McDonnell and Keir Starmer. Four of these constituencies form a contiguous cluster spanning Camden, Islington and Hackey.

To redress the balance, younger candidates from outside the capital are being pushed to the fore in the final week and a half of the campaign. Today saw Laura Pidcock, candidate for North West Durham, selling the Labour message across the airwaves.

But the worry is that it is too little, too late. Polls in recent days seem to contradict the MRP analysis and hark back to the loss of 2017 when Labour’s last-minute surge prevented a Tory majority. But privately Labour MPs in even narrowly leave seats are fretting about 12 December. 

The irony is that neither Pidcock, Long-Bailey nor Burgon voted for a Brexit deal at any stage. Elsewhere in the party there are plenty of able voices with stronger leave credentials. A fair few of the 19 Labour rebels who voted for Johnson’s deal at second reading have stepped down, but there is no shortage of referendum respecters who have been pushed to the margins — Melanie Onn, Dan Jarvis and Lisa Nandy to name but three.

With these figures so far from the shadow cabinet, the heavy lifting falls to the more remain-minded northern candidates instead. Whether their last-minute exposure can overturn years of fraying relations between Labour and its core vote remains to be seen.

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