Rebecca Long-Bailey is not ‘continuity Corbyn.’ She’s just been a good sport

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign launches go, it was inauspicious. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian was her first public attempt to flesh out both an analysis of the party’s disastrous election defeat and to tentatively suggest why she is the person to repair the damage.

How did it go? As I say, inauspicious. There was some stuff about upending ‘the broken political system’ and uniting communities ‘in all their diversity’ through ‘progressive patriotism.’

But she is still ‘considering’ whether to stand for leader. (It might have been wiser, then, for those advising her to set some clearer expectations about her strategy and timeline?)


What was interesting, however, amid the bromides about having an ‘honest discussion about why we lost and how we can win,’ is what she didn’t say.

There wasn’t a single reference to Jeremy Corbyn in the piece, less still to him having ‘won the argument,’ if not the actual, you know, election.

There was no attempt to justify the party’s manifesto, widely seen, to misquote Mario Cuomo, as an attempt to ‘govern in poetry’ with a string of unaffordable and outdated commitments.

‘There are many lessons to learn from the defeat,’ she said, ‘but it’s clear we didn’t lose because of our commitments to scrap universal credit, invest in public services or abolish tuition fees.’ (Code for ‘our expensive programme of nationalisation was a disaster?’)

Creditably, there was nothing that sought to gloss over the failings of the election defeat.

What she did say is that Labour cannot ‘blame Brexit alone’ (code, presumably, for ‘yes, Jeremy was an issue on the doorstep’) and the party ‘must recognise that it’s no good having the right solutions if people don’t believe you can deliver them.’ (Translation: ‘No-one believed our grandiose policies could be paid for’).

(One interesting footnote is that she didn’t use the word ‘socialism’ once – a de rigour affectation in Labour politics since the 2010 defeat).

Winners invariably repudiate their predecessors in their bid for redefinition and that, in an understated and careful way, is what Long-Bailey seems to have been doing. The piece is a polite attempt to put clear red water between her and Corbyn (and McDonnell too, often touted as her main benefactor).

This is important because, to all intents, Long-Bailey is a clean skin. She’s only been an MP since 2015 and has little political form before that.

Feel free to pick over the particulars in the comments section, but I can’t see much in her parliamentary contributions or the Early Day Motions she has signed since becoming an MP to frighten the horses either.

While her speeches as shadow business secretary – all green new deal and infrastructure spending – are dialled-up versions of previous Labour policies and no more interventionist than Peter Mandelson’s ‘industrial activism’ (aka picking winners) of a decade ago.

She seems a perfectly pleasant, if not fully-fledged, mainstream Labour politician. For my money, she comes across well in broadcast interviews.

What she most certainly is not is Corbyn V 2.0.

Long-Bailey has simply been a good sport and played a constructive role on the frontbench these past few years, while disgruntled moderates huffed and puffed, to little effect, from the backbenches.

That she is seen by many – putative supporters and detractors alike – as the candidate of the left owes much to Corbyn and McDonnell having made precisely the same mistake as Blair and Brown in failing to plan their succession.

There is no obvious hand-on-the-shoulder follow-on candidate from the left in this race (so far at least) and the Labour leadership really is up for grabs. The Corbynistas are trying to make sense of where to go, with reports of an all-too-familiar leaching of support away from the hard left from its more ambitious denizens – who have already worked out that losing elections on a regular basis pretty much sucks.

Can Long-Bailey successfully refloat the party off the sand dunes of the hard left’s fantasy island? Perhaps she can. People change and people in politics often change a lot.

Her predecessor as MP for Salford, Hazel Blears, might have ended up as an impeccably Blairite minister, but she was a leading light in the ‘Save Clause Four’ campaign following Blair’s pledge in his 1994 conference speech to scrap it.

Rebecca Long-Bailey’s rise is down to adroit personal positioning and the stupidity of more experienced moderates in abandoning the high ground of the frontbench. She has played her cards well and left few hostages to fortune.

Of course, this will be a recommendation to some and a criticism for others.

That she can present such wildly different interpretations underscores the depth of the crisis of direction Labour now faces.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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10 Responses to “Rebecca Long-Bailey is not ‘continuity Corbyn.’ She’s just been a good sport”

  1. Alf says:

    RLB is probably the best candidate to represent the Party’s socialists. Wes Streeting would make a good candidate for the Blairites. But do the Blairites actually have any policies?

  2. Anne says:

    I agree with your piece Kevin – I think Rebecca has done well – she has been a very good shadow business minister and did well in the debates and she is a northern lass but I don’t think it is not her time just yet. At the moment, I think it going to be a long road back. You are right in saying the moderates should never have backed off when Corbyn was elected leader and Chucka should never have left the party – he could now have been in a position to rebuild Labour but we are where we are.
    I still believe Kier Starmer is the man to be leader – he has the ability but I would be including Rebecca, Lisa and Jess in prominent posts in the shadow cabinet – they will gain experience and play a dominant role to help rebuild our party.

  3. John p Reid says:

    RLB’s comment when labour took No deal off the table in the commons vote “because the EU didn’t want it“ was unbelievably dumb

    When a union negotiated a deal with someone you always have the possibility you’re prepared to walk away, the fact our ace card to say if we only get a bad deal we’d prefer no deal was our trump card, I was so embarrassed for her when she did t realise that.

  4. Tafia says:

    Long Bailey is not ‘continuity Corbyn’ and was never designed to be.

    I said on here 3-4 years ago replying to John P Reid about future leaders, that Long Bailey (a fraud and chancer by the way if ever there was one) was being groomed to be leader by John McDonnell – who in turn is the real brains behind Cult Corbyn. Corbyn always merely being a short term stop-gap ‘useful idiot’ to hold the line while McDonnell prepares a younger long term replacement in the shape of Long Bailey. Corbyn’s ‘jusefullness was to energise the young voters particulalrly in urban areas. Now they will be given a young leader. (Think Little Finger in Game of Thrones)

    McDonnell knows he is electorally unacceptable to the public at large and thus despite harbouring a desire to be the leader, he knows that can neve be the case, but that does not bother him as he is more concerned with being the Vanguard of the Marxian take-over of Labour, a task that will be largely complete once his acolyte Long Bailey is safely in place. Labour being reduced to a rump as it is now also serves this purpose as it enables scores of lost Constituencies where there is now no Labour MP, to be taken over at grass roots level and have fresh, young, far more left wing candidates in place ready for 2024.

    Of course the problem with all this is that within England the voter base is and largely always has been, right of centre so quite how they intend to get round that I haven’t figured out yet – possibly extreme left wing populism dressed up as new Blairism.

    Has anyone noticed Long Bailey’s election logo is very similar in design to Momentum’s logo?

    (Prediction – Becky Wrong Daily to win. Expect Scottish Labour to be dumped this year and to become an entirely separate party in it’s own right but dressed up as them deciding to go their own way so that they can adapt to the different politics of Scotland. It will then move to a position of ‘federalism/ scottish Home Rule’ positioning politically somewhere midway between the union as now and full independence. A compromise position to enable it to compete against the SNP. At the same time expect the main Labour Party to seriously grip Labour Wales – which is basically running Wales into the ground by doing it’s own thing, much of the time against what the main Labour Party are saying, and by it’s sheer incompetence slowly collapsing the Welsh Labour block vote much along the lines of what happened in Scotland but at a slower rate.

  5. Anne says:

    Another point to consider – In the run up to the general election Rebecca went head to head with Rushi Sunak who is being tipped for promotion to a high profile trade job in the new government. Now I thought that Rebecca got the better of Rushi in that debate. She is the right person to challenge Rushi.

  6. John p Reid says:

    Ann, Yes RLB was good on the TV debate she made points about Tory cuts to police officers
    Paying tribute to those killed in the London Bridge attack, but just scoring points saying the Tories cut public services won’t win a election
    That stuff didn’t appeal to the Working Class North
    People want solutions if there had to be cuts in how services can be kept running by using other things such as spending more effectively

    Vanity projects and how the money can affectively be used on letting regional assemblies wotk our they know how to spend it where it counts better

  7. Tom says:

    The times reported that Alex Halligan, a McCluskey stooge, was co ordinating her campaign and Jon Lansman was ‘advising’ Her. If that’s not continuity Corbyn I don’t know what is.

    McDonell is supposed to have objected to this and has had no further involvement in the campaign.

    As for her piece, it’s something of nothing. A wishy washy attempt to triangulate, mentions for the unions, the membership and the northern voters.

  8. steve says:

    Only problem is that politics doesn’t begin and end in Westminster.

    As an inoffensive darling of the politically bankrupt Labour Party RLB will undoubtedbly appeal – what is there not to like?

    But unfortunately, despite Blairite wishful thinking, the bothersome electorate hasn’t gone away.

    And for the voters it appears that the LP has nothing to offer. The Brexit referendum result was rejected. The PLP is packed almost entirely with Tory look-a-likes who, given the chance would implement Tory policy while expressing more concern for the victims produced.

    And the alternative policy cupboard is bare.

    Worst of all for ex-Labour Students, never-had-a-proper-job politicians, there are no career opportunities to be had within the sinking LibDems.

    So it’s game over for the Labour Party as a party of government.

  9. Gee says:

    The involvement of both Halligan and Lansman would indicate a pivot away from McCluskey (and Murphy, Milne etc.) who took over, back to those who got Corbyn elected leader. But it’s easy to read too much into it by obsessing with the political over the personal. Halligan has been a community organiser in Salford (RLB’s consitituency) for years so it’s just her bringing in a long-standing friend and colleague; he in turn is friends with Lansman.

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