2020 Labour Leadership Race News and Notes

2020 Labour Leadership Race

The 2020 Labour leadership race is underway, and soon, we will find out the new leader of Britain’s opposition.

When Do We Find Out Who Won The 2020 Labour Leadership Race?

Voting for the next leader of Labour begins on 24 February, and party members who wish to vote must do so by 2 April; the party will declare the result on Saturday 4 April 2020.1

Contest Background

The United Kingdom’s political scene has been in chaos since the 2016 Brexit referendum, in which the people voted to leave the European Union. That act happened on 31 January 2020, but getting there required feats of political strength, a lot of parliamentary turmoil, and splitting headaches for voters.

David Cameron of the Conservatives resigned as prime minister in 2016 after the Brexit vote, leaving Theresa May in charge. She led the Tories into an abortive effort in the 2017 snap general election, in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour exceeded electoral expectations. Reduced to a minority government and her premiership under constant siege, the Conservatives struggled to pass legislation related to Brexit. Labour commanded 262 seats following that general election, with Corbyn contributing to May’s difficulties. Only the collapse of UKIP prevented what could have been a very surprising and positive result for Labour. His leadership hitting previous turbulence, Corbyn was secure following Labour’s gains in 2017.

May’s Brexit deal could not pass the House of Commons and rumbles continued about her leadership. Conservative poll numbers sank with Labour catching up to the Tories, and then the new Brexit Party complicated the whole scene. In the end, May quit the Conservative leadership in 2019, and Brexiteer Boris Johnson became the new prime minister. Tory poll numbers jumped and the Conservatives claimed healthy leads over Corbyn and Labour. Johnson won approval from the Commons to call an early general election in 2019, hoping to do what May could not: win a thumping majority and cram Brexit through Parliament.

Boris Johnson did just that, winning the Tories’ biggest majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher and reducing Labour to their worst result in over 80 years. Labour lost a net of 60 seats, many of which were in solid red areas of the English north, putting Corbyn’s leadership in an untenable position. At his constituency count on election night, Corbyn noted his intention to step down.2 In the following days, Corbyn made it official, and the leadership race advanced.

2020 Labour Leadership Race Candidates

In alphabetical order by surname. Candidates without a minimum threshold of support, to include either five percent of local parties or three union or other affiliates, will not qualify for the members’ ballot. 3

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
Constituency: Salford and Eccles (since 2015)
Lisa Nandy MP
Constituency: Wigan (since 2010)
Sir Keir Starmer MP
Constituency: Holborn and St. Pancras (since 2015)
Emily Thornberry MP
Constituency: Islington South and Finsbury (since 2005)

Pre-Vote Analysis

Members of the Labour Party, once they get their ballots, will have over a month to decide who they want to lead the party. As of right now, the heavy favourite to be that person is Keir Starmer, the only male left in the race.4 He cleaned up with MP nominations and seems to be riding into the ballot with momentum.

This is to say, Starmer has momentum with a lower-cased “m.” Momentum, the pro-Labour left-wing group who were staunch backers of Corbyn, are for Rebecca Long-Bailey.5 Long-Bailey, called “RLB” for short, is a politician from the left seen as an acolyte of Corbyn who would continue his policies. However, all the remaining candidates lie somewhere to the left of centre on the spectrum, including Starmer, Nandy, and Thornberry.

All four candidates have served on the Labour frontbench. Thornberry is the longest-tenured of all of them, and happens to be the only one to have served in the House of Commons on the government side of the floor. Yet, she may not make the final ballot of the members in late February.

It’s Starmer’s to lose, and should he take the leadership, it will be interesting to see how close he stays to Corbynism. Nobody still standing has been too harshly critical of Corbyn or the 2019 Labour manifesto. Indeed, it could be that Labour and its members decide to keep the message (with a few small tweaks), but change the messenger. We won’t know until 2023 or 2024 if that has worked, though some will take the 2020 local elections in May as a first sign as to whether or not Labour is rebuilding.

References

1: Labour Party, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Labour, February 6, 2020, https://labour.org.uk/people/leadership-elections-hub-2020/frequently-asked-questions-leadership-elections/

2: Thomas Colson and Adam Bienkov, “Jeremy Corbyn announces he will resign as Labour Party leader,” Business Insider, December 12, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/jeremy-corbyn-resigns-as-labour-party-leader-after-election-defeat-2019-12

3: BBC News, “Labour leadership: Emily Thornberry says she is ‘squeezed’ in race,” BBC News, February 5, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-51390672

4: Max Liu, “UK Politics: Unite back RLB but Starmer is odds-on for Labour leader,” Betfair, January 26, 2020, https://betting.betfair.com/politics/uk-politics/uk-politics-unite-back-rlb-but-starmer-is-odds-on-for-labour-leader-260120-204.html

5: Ashley Cowburn, “Labour leadership: Rebecca Long-Bailey endorsed by Momentum in race to succeed Corbyn,” The Independent, January 16, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-leadership-rebecca-long-bailey-momentum-election-corbyn-a9286666.html

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