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7 January 2020

Ian Lavery gives Rebecca Long-Bailey a free run from the left

The Labour chairman's decision not to stand to succeed for Jeremy Corbyn is likely to leave Long-Bailey the only left candidate on the ballot. But will that be enough to win?

By Patrick Maguire

You wait weeks for a leadership announcement from the Labour left and two come along at once: Ian Lavery will not stand to replace Jeremy Corbyn and will support Rebecca Long Bailey, who finally confirmed her candidacy tonight.

In a statement released shortly after Long-Bailey launched her campaign with a column for Tribune, Lavery – who confirmed last week he considering a run and enjoyed considerable grassroots support – said he was “honoured” to have been encouraged to stand but instead endorsed the shadow business secretary.

“I will be throwing my full support behind Rebecca Long-Bailey as the best person to lead our party,” Lavery, Labour’s chairman, said. “Having worked with her in the shadow cabinet I know she has the intellect, drive and determination to take forward and develop the popular, common sense socialist policies that Jeremy Corbyn has championed. And after more than a century it’s about time the Labour Party was led by a woman.”

That Lavery has reached that conclusion is unsurprising: Long-Bailey’s Tribune piece is a factional call to arms, as is clear from the choice of publication. She has explicitly pitched herself as the candidate of ideological continuity, promising no return to triangulation, further democratisation of the grassroots, and a greater emphasis on the party’s Green New Deal policy (a membership favourite). There is no mention of “progressive patriotism” – a phrase that set alarm bells ringing on the Corbynite left after the soft launch of her campaign in the Guardian last month – and in its place is a pledge not to compromise on migration policy.

“Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn we’ve drawn upon the collective knowledge and experience of the movement to develop a radical, ambitious socialist vision for the future,” Long-Bailey writes. “This is our greatest strength, and we need a leader who comes from and will stay true to that movement.” Her explicit criticism of the Corbyn project is limited to strategy and communications alone. There is an implicit dig at its handling of Brexit in the last Parliament, which is likely to have reassured Lavery – a persistent critic of pro-EU MPs. The populist tone, meanwhile, is an instructive point of divergence with her nominal running mate, Angela Rayner, who cautioned Labour against the language of revolution at her campaign launch this morning.

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With Lavery absent from the ballot and Clive Lewis facing an uncertain path to qualification, Long-Bailey begins her campaign in a strong position – that is, as far as the fight for supremacy on the Labour left is concerned. It looks more likely than not that come the close of MP and MEP nominations next Monday she will be the only candidate of the left on the ballot. That, however, was arguably always going to be the case. While the Campaign Group’s ranks have swollen since the election, it is still nowhere near the 42 MPs it would need to nominate more than one leadership candidate by itself. 

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Tacking so strongly to the left also carries risks when it comes to actually winning the contest. Long-Bailey is gambling on the tastes of the selectorate remaining broadly unchanged, despite last month’s election result – and, indeed, on the selectorate itself remaining broadly unchanged. While she is undoubtedly in a strong position to energise the left, rival campaigns doubt that will be enough to win 50 per cent plus one – be that on the first round or on preferences, which might now be harder to come by.