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16 January 2020

Should Jess Phillips worry about Labour registered supporters?

Only 14,700 people have paid £25 to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's successor - a fraction of the 180,000 who signed up in 2016.

By Patrick Maguire

Only 14,700 registered supporters have signed up to vote in Labour’s leadership election – a tiny fraction of the 180,000 who paid £25 to vote in 2016, and not even half of the 36,000 of them who backed Owen Smith. Which, if any, of the five contenders vying to succeed Jeremy Corbyn should be most worried?

One school of thought says that Rebecca Long-Bailey has most to worry about. Jeremy Corbyn won overwhelmingly among registered supporters in both of his leadership victories. Surely, proponents of this theory contend, their failure to sign up in meaningful numbers – at this rate, they will make up barely three per cent of the selectorate – hurts the candidate closest to him the most?

It is difficult to sustain that argument when you consider the stated objective of the Jess Phillips campaign: to rebalance the political composition of the selectorate so as to give an overt Corbynsceptic a fighting chance of victory. That 14,700 figure is far, far lower than it would need to be if one hoped to win via “centryism”. As one Corbynsceptic organiser bluntly puts it: “It’s not going to deliver the numbers they needed.”

Panic won’t be setting in just yet, however. As everyone from Team Phillips to Team Nandy acknowledges, the registered supporter scheme – though fetishised in the popular imagination – is not where the action is this time. It was only open to sign-ups for two days – and its cost is far more prohibitive than membership of most affiliates and, indeed, the party itself, which costs only £4 a month for three months (it also has a later cut-off date of 20 January).

Campaigns – as well as Progress and Labour First, the two big Corbynsceptic ginger groups – have been pushing new recruits towards full membership accordingly. “The real numbers,” says a source close to Long-Bailey, “will be the new members”. If they are similarly underwhelming, however, Phillips may soon have to change tack.

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