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16 January 2020

A LabourList poll has put Rebecca Long-Bailey ahead of Keir Starmer. But does that matter?

The new survey is a useful corrective to at least two narratives about the Labour leadership race.

By Stephen Bush

Who’s having the better morning: Keir Starmer, who has picked up not only the endorsement of SERA – putting him on the verge of qualifying for the ballot via the Constituency Labour Party route – but also the first two CLP nominations of the contest to boot? Or Rebecca Long-Bailey, who a Survation poll of LabourList members puts narrowly ahead?

Without wishing to drone on about opinion poll methodologies, I’m highly sceptical that you can reweight your way around the differences between the average LabourList reader and the average Labour Party member, any more than you could get an accurate poll of the country by reweighting the balance of Labour Party members to reflect the demographic balance of the country as a whole.

But it’s a useful corrective to at least two narratives about the Labour leadership.

The first is that Keir Starmer is certain to win. There are a number of reasons to doubt that. One is that Long-Bailey’s retooled campaign team has a great deal of experience and has won Labour leadership elections before. Plus, as I explain in my column this week, I have never heard of a Labour Party contest in which the ruling faction, whether from the left, right or middle of the party, hasn’t used every tool in the rulebook to bend the terms of the contest in their preferred candidate’s favour. It doesn’t always work, but it does pay dividends an awful lot of the time.

But the second is that it is a corrective to the growing narrative of a surge for Lisa Nandy. Ailbhe makes a smart observation on our podcast this week: Nandy’s success thus far is that, at the moment, she is the only candidate whose pitch you can talk about for longer than it takes to say “Keir Starmer is fighting a slick campaign”. Her ideas-led campaign is winning the war in the battle for elite opinion: wowing the lobby with her performance in front of Andrew Neil, picking up the endorsement of the NUM, emerging as the second-strongest candidate in the Parliamentary Labour Party. And she’s showing a real ruthlessness as far as her own vulnerabilities among party members are concerned, coming out in favour of the free movement of people in a speech yesterday.

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All of that is attracting rave reviews from the commentariat and the labour movement. But thus far, there is no evidence that Nandymania extends beyond the confines of parliament and the upper echelons of the trade union movement. It may be that it spreads out from there to the Labour Party membership once the hustings, particularly the televised hustings, are underway, but the evidence thus far all points one way: to a contest between Starmer and Long-Bailey.

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