An assortment of leadership candidates and their proxies spent this evening at Chinese for Labour’s annual gala dinner at the Phoenix Palace in Marylebone this evening. Showing one’s face at this sort of do is de rigueur for Labour’s coming men and women in normal times, but the new rules under which leadership elections are conducted have made attendance more important than ever: the 21 socialist societies affiliated to the party, of which Chinese for Labour is one, have an outsized power in determining just who makes the ballot.
Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry both attended in person, with the former’s speech impressing attendees. Neither has yet won the nomination of a constituency party, which means schmoozing affiliates is a high stakes enterprise. Thornberry, though, appears snookered: she has no trade union to her name and appears unlikely to win one round, let alone the required two.
Not so Nandy. Having already won the support of the National Union of Mineworkers, she requires just one more union and another affiliate to make the ballot. The GMB nominates tomorrow, with the Wigan MP considered the favourite. Tim Roche, the union’s general secretary, is a big fan. Sarah Owen, until last month its representative on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, nominated Nandy in her new capacity as MP for Luton North – as did several other GMB-aligned members of the PLP.
By coincidence, Owen is also chair of Chinese for Labour. She cannot impose her will on its executive – whose members are predominantly based in London and aligned with the party’s right – but her voice will carry some sway. What might complicate the process is the presence of a third speaker at tonight’s event: Jenny Chapman, the chair of Keir Starmer’s campaign (there was no sign of Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey, or any of their surrogates). Though the shadow Brexit secretary has already qualified for the ballot, he is still working affiliates and constituency Labour parties hard. Harder than he needs to? Perhaps, although it is arguably in his interests to keep the likes of Nandy and Thornberry off the ballot.
The same is true of Angela Rayner – who, like Starmer, qualified for the final round courtesy of Usdaw earlier and still wooed the crowd this evening. That will have made for uncomfortable viewing for the likes of Dawn Butler, also in attendance. Affiliates and local parties have thus far voted with their own hearts rather than seeking to avoid breaking those belonging to second-tier candidates. If Starmer and Rayner’s decision to keep seeking nominations they do not need continues to pay dividends, then the ballot paper before Labour members next month could end up very short indeed.