Rebecca Long-Bailey denies she is the ‘Continuity Cobynism’ candidate in Labour’s leadership election. Her public statements suggest otherwise. Having given Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership a remarkable 10/10, Long-Bailey proposes to double down on the party’s 2019 manifesto commitments and simply present them in a new way. At least members know what they’re getting with a Long-Bailey leadership: more of the same but with a different face. Had Labour not suffered its worst defeat since 1935 that might have been enough to secure her victory in April.
Instead, the disaster in December means it is Keir Starmer who looks likely to become the next Labour leader. But what does he stand for?
Having supported Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election and Owen Smith in his attempt to unseat Corbyn a year later, Starmer is no Corbynite. Yet he has avoided directly criticising the current party leader, having coined the mantra:
‘Don’t trash the last Labour government and don’t trash the last four years’.
Starmer wants to be seen as the candidate capable of uniting all wings of the party and so end the ‘factionalism’ which plagued the party under Corbyn. If ending division is a vain hope, the latest YouGov poll of members suggests his is the pitch which is working.
The survey supplies a possible clue as to Starmer’s unwillingness to ‘trash’ Corbyn. If he has carefully avoided rating the Labour leader, Starmer’s supporters give him an average of 5/10: 30 per cent awarded Corbyn at least 7/10. If Labour’s terrible defeat has made them, perhaps reluctantly, turn their backs on the Continuity Corbynite candidate, a significant number of Starmerites appear to want a Corbyn Lite leader.
Some cynical commentators see this as being the only reason for Starmer’s reticence in attacking Corbyn: he is vote-grubbing. But however electorally convenient it is for him, Starmer is probably genuine in positioning himself somewhere between New Labour and Corbynism: it defines his own ‘soft left’ perspective.