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22 January 2020updated 23 Jan 2020 10:21am

Labour leadership contest in danger of becoming “a ridiculous quiz show”

Lucy Powell MP, who with Ed Miliband is leading a commission into Labour’s election defeat, has questioned the sense in rushing “headlong” into a leadership race.

By George Grylls

It is six weeks since Labour endured its worst general election defeat since 1935. But if one week is a long time in politics, then six must constitute an aeon.

Now, one of the Labour MPs tasked with examining what went wrong, has told the New Statesman that she is unsure that the party is right to have embarked on a leadership contest so soon after such a cataclysmic result.

“I would have preferred for us to have waited,” said Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central and the former shadow education secretary. “The Lib Dems aren’t even choosing theirs till July. I think we should have had a period of collective understanding.”

“It becomes a ridiculous quiz show — what score would you give this person? How working class are you? How many ovens do you have? God, could it miss the point any more?”

The commission is being run by Labour Together and will feature voices from across the party — from Labour List editor Sienna Rodgers to Jo Platt, the former Leigh MP, from former John McDonnell adviser James Meadway to ex-leader Ed Miliband.

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“We’re having very consensual discussions about the profound nature of the task ahead of us and what we might need to do to address it,” said Powell. “That’s being lost now in a who’s up who’s down, who’s on the ballot, who’s not on the ballot, who’s friends with who, who’s giving ten out of ten to who — it’s so superficial.”

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The Labour Together commission came under attack from leadership candidate Lisa Nandy back in December, when she told the Today programme that she thought the “approach was wrong”.

“We need to be out in places like Ashfield, listening to people like the ex-miner I met yesterday, not sitting in meeting rooms in Westminster trying to debate this out amongst ourselves with the help of a few think-tanks,” said the Wigan MP. 

When asked why Nandy had been so critical, Powell was bemused. “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. It’s not what she said privately before she gave that interview.”

“We’re doing polling work, events out in the country — focus groups — with previous Labour voters who stopped voting Labour,” Powell added.

The report is due out before the leadership contest concludes. Since its initial announcement, there has been a marked broadening of the people involved. Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA trade union, who loaned Jeremy Corbyn office space during his 2015 leadership bid, has joined the commission, as have some of the defeated candidates from Labour’s “red wall” seats.

“Reports from people like me will help tell the story of what we were hearing on the doorstep,” said Mary Wimbury, who stood unsuccessfully in Wrexham.

Wimbury compared her experience standing as a candidate in Aberconwy in 2015 to her experience standing in Wrexham in 2019.

“There were briefings, Q&As, phone calls with shadow cabinet members. They didn’t happen in 2019, when they did in 2015. At first I thought maybe I just hadn’t been added onto a list. But then I asked others and neither had they.”