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9 January 2020updated 02 Aug 2021 1:03pm

Labour leadership race: the candidates’ pitches so far

A summary of each candidates’ op-eds, big interviews and campaign videos

By Ailbhe Rea

Clive Lewis

Clive Lewis, who has been the MP for Norwich South since 2015, has been a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, but resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet rather than voting to trigger Article 50. He then became a prominent voice from the left of the party, calling for Labour to adopt a second referendum position. He re-joined the shadow cabinet in January 2018.

Lewis has pitched himself as the candidate to tackle the “crisis of democracy” (Guardian), calling for proportional representation, Lords reform, moving power structures out of London, and allowing the Scottish and Welsh Labour parties to decide their own policies on independence.

In a personal op-ed for the Independent, Lewis also draws on his own experience as a mixed-heritage black man to argue that commonality and a “sense of belonging based on shared values and interests,” underpinned by greater equality, is the key to re-unifying the country post-Brexit. “Part of this means not further compounding divisions in this country by creating a gulf between Labour voters in the north and midlands and that of BAME voters in the newer Labour heartlands of the inner cities,” he writes.

However, despite Lewis’s potential appeal to Labour’s left-wing grassroots, comments in an interview he gave to Huck magazine when he declared his candidacy in December may be a problem. Discussing groping allegations against him from 2017, of which he was subsequently cleared, Lewis said: “You never want to be in a situation where someone can make a claim when it’s their word against yours.” The comments have been viewed by some as unapologetic, while others (as reported in the Times) are concerned about another incident from 2017, when he was forced to apologise after telling a party activist “to get on your knees bitch.” 

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Rebecca Long-Bailey

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the supposed continuity candidate and joint-favourite for the leadership along with Keir Starmer, made the first murmurings of a leadership bid with an op-ed in the Guardian over the Christmas holidays. In it, she wrote of the need to adopt “progressive patriotism” to win back Labour heartlands, a phrase she has since ditched after it landed badly.  

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Long-Bailey formally launched her campaign with an op-ed in Tribune arguing that she is the best-placed to continue the socialist programme of the Corbyn era and stressing her record as one of the main orchestrators of Labour’s Green New Deal.  

In both pitches, she blames Labour’s “triangulation” over Brexit for its loss and calls for “real wealth and power” to be redistributed to the regions.

Jess Phillips. Credit: Getty

Jess Phillips

Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley since 2015 and a prominent critic of Corbyn from the backbenches, wrote directly after the election (Guardian) that the party needed to change and be honest if it was to win back the trust of working-class voters. She condemned those whom she describes as “a clique who don’t care if our appeal has narrowed, as long as they have control of the institutions and ideas of the party”.

Phillips formally launched her leadership bid with a video emphasising her background in community activism and the basic needs of safety, education and healthcare that “seem radical to large parts of our country at the moment, because they don’t exist”.

Phillips’s pitch is that she is a straight-talking candidate who can hold Boris Johnson to account, regain trust and, crucially, win the next election. “We need a strong leader with a big personality to take on Boris Johnson from day one,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Mirror. “We can’t continue like nothing has changed. We need a different leader and a different team who can stick it to Boris and earn back the trust of the people we lost.”

In an interview with Andrew Marr, Phillips suggested she would consider adopting a policy of rejoining the EU if she became leader. She then clarified her position in an article in the Independent, writing: “I can’t see a campaign to rejoin winning support in the next Labour manifesto.”

She told Good Morning Britain that her three policy priorities will be social care, universal childcare and tackling the climate emergency.

Lisa Nandy

Lisa Nandy, the MP for the Leave-voting seat of Wigan since 2010, announced her leadership bid in the Wigan Gazette, arguing that “the next person at the helm needs to come from those areas which feel neglected and are turning away from the red rose party, with a deep understanding of the problems the regions face.”

The announcement was followed on the same evening by a detailed op-ed in the Guardian, arguing that Labour’s path to victory will come from bringing “an end to the wholesale patronising of working people as a homogeneous group” and from igniting the movement from the grassroots.

In an interview with Sophy Ridge, Nandy furthered condemned what she called “a disconnect in the hierarchy of the Labour Party. We commission think tanks to write reports in central London, we sit behind desks in Westminster or Victoria Street commissioning opinion polls and focus groups, and then we go out and tell people that we’re going to fix it… Actually we’ve always been a movement that was built by, and for, working people for working people to change their own lives.”

She also criticised Boris Johnson’s silence over the crisis in Iran in the Times.

Lisa Nandy. Credit: Getty

Keir Starmer

The shadow Brexit secretary and joint front-runner to the leadership (along with Rebecca Long-Bailey) gave an interview to the Today programme as an effective soft launch for his leadership bid. He emphasised his own background and argued that the party should broadly retain the radical policy programme of the Corbyn era. He also dismissed suggestions that he is too middle class to speak to Labour’s heartlands. “My dad was a toolmaker and my mum was a nurse. And not everybody knows that and that’s because I don’t say it very often… So the middle class background just doesn’t wash.”

In an op-ed for Labour List, Starmer re-emphasised his commitment to Labour’s anti-austerity and public ownership positions, while arguing that the party had become too factional, urging that “we must make unaccountable power a thing of the past in our party: all decisions should be made democratically, transparently and with respect for those who disagree.”

Writing for the Mirror, he again argued that the party should retain its core values, but unite, and take the fight to the Conservatives, and that Labour wouldn’t be out of power for a decade, as others have suggested.

He formally announced his leadership bid with a video emphasising his long career of pro bono cases as a barrister.

Emily Thornberry

The shadow foreign secretary and MP for Islington South and Finsbury was one of the first to declare, writing in the Guardian that it was a major strategic error for Labour to have agreed to an election before the issue of Brexit had been resolved, “like crackers voting for Christmas”. She argued that Labour needed to elect a leader with “the strategic vision to foresee and exploit Johnson’s failings”, pointing to her own record as Johnson’s shadow on the foreign office brief, and revealing that she had warned Jeremy Corbyn about the dangers of agreeing to a de facto Brexit election.

Writing in the MirrorThornberry subsequently made a slightly bizarre pledge to stand down as leader if it became clear she couldn’t lead the party back to power, while again emphasising that Labour needed someone with “confidence and forensic skill at the Despatch Box”.

Writing in response to a list of questions for all leadership candidates asked by Wirral South MP Alison McGovern, Thornberry offered a detailed set of proposals for how she would re-organise the use of party resources away from London, and an honest and considered assessment of specific strategic errors during the campaign. This includes proposals for tackling anti-Semitism in the party, establishing economic credibility, plans for the internal structure of the party and a detailed record of Thronberry’s experience as a campaigner. (Labour List)

In the above piece and in broadcast interviews, Thornberry has been critical of the role of Corbyn’s advisers in decision-making.

Over the issue of anti-Semitism within Labour, Thornberry wrote for the Jewish News: “We need to get down on our hands and knees to the Jewish community and ask them for forgiveness and a fresh start.”