Bet of the Day: Labour Party Leadership Election 2020

14th September 2021

With the smoke still clearing on the 2019 UK General Election, what can be said clearly is that Boris Johnson will rule with a majority in Parliament for the next five years at least – and that the two main all-UK parties will be seeking new leaders in the near future. With Jeremy Corbyn announcing his plan to stand down in the Labour party, and the Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson having lost her Westminster seat after a terrible campaign, the dramatis personae of this Parliament will be very different from the recent past.

It is at the Labour contest we will look for this Bet of the Day article. The Lib Dem competition is, naturally, going to be narrow, with the party looking to one of the 11 MPs it has who hasn’t already led the party. The Labour contest is more competitive, with potentially as many as nine contenders, and the name chosen at the end of voting will be the identity of the person who will have the first shot at erasing the large Conservative majority. Below, we look at some of the politicians who have either stated they will stand for the role, or laid very heavy hints.

On the left … one standout contender

Although the Corbyn years ended in electoral disaster, they were arguably a very good time to be a left-wing, young, female MP. Prominent roles in the leader’s last shadow cabinet were held by names such as Rebecca Long Bailey, Angela Rayner and Laura Pidcock, while Dawn Butler and Cat Smith were also prominent advocates. For many people, Pidcock was expected to be a contender for leadership until last Thursday night, when she lost her North-West Durham seat. Over the weekend, Rayner surprised many by taking a step back and seeming to confirm her intention to run for the deputy leadership vacated by Tom Watson.

Rayner’s move – and the absence of any stated intention from Butler – seems to have indicated that the consensus candidate from this section of the party will be Long Bailey. This likely free run at the votes of party members who identify on the left of the party makes “RLB” the hegemonic left candidate in the election – and given that the membership is believed to be heavily tilted in this direction, it’s no surprise that the 40-year-old former solicitor lead the field with most bookies. Paddy Power rate her as 7/4 favourite to win.

The “unifying” candidates: a crowded field

While Long Bailey seems to have secured the nomination of many of the trade unions and party bodies on the left, there are other members of the former leader’s shadow cabinet who also seem set to run. A strong pitch was made at the beginning of this week by current Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer. Without announcing that he will stand, Starmer identified himself as a socialist and stated that much of the Corbyn-era policy platform was popular and should be maintained. He would represent a continuation in policy terms, although a marked change in style from that era – but his decision to stay in shadow cabinet and argue for the former leader’s policies will certainly shield him from most accusations of disloyalty.

Another current Shadow Cabinet member, and one who has confirmed her intention to run, is Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. The MP for Islington South has already faced some fire from within the party, when deposed Don Valley MP Caroline Flint accused her of calling Brexit supporters “stupid”. It’s hard to see how her standing with potential voters would not be somewhat damaged by both this and an episode in 2014 where she tweeted a picture in a way which some mainstream press outlets described as “snobbish”. Rounding out this section of the field is Yvette Cooper – long seen as a return to the Blair years, and 12/1 with Betway to get the leadership.

A “return to working class roots”: What does that mean?

Much of the issue with Labour’s 2019 election result was the way that Northern towns, long seen as a solid heartland for the party, chose to vote for the Conservatives and destroyed the party’s “Red Wall”. The immediate reaction to this was for numerous commentators to suggest that Labour under Corbyn had lost touch with its working-class roots, and that it would need to pick a leader who better reflected that historic connection. Among the party’s MPs, the names most commonly recommended to achieve this are Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips.

Of the two, Nandy seems like the more serious contender – her interviews and articles since the result emerged have been highly coherent and eloquent, and have read very much like pitches for the leadership. Phillips, for her part, has appeared more like a fantasy candidate for people who like their politicians “unfiltered”; even at this stage, after four years as an MP, it is hard to pin down an actual policy stance with which to identify her. With that said, we can look across the Atlantic and even into 10 Downing Street to see where rhetorical bluster and shallow engagement with issues can get you, so while Nandy is 15/4 with Unibet and Phillips 12/1 with the same bookie, don’t be surprised if the latter ends up surprising a few when the votes are counted.

Bets of the Day

Rebecca Long Bailey (Paddy Power, 7/4); Keir Starmer (Betway, 2/1); Lisa Nandy (Unibet, 15/4)

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