How Labour’s potential leadership candidates measure up against member priorities

by Atul Hatwal

This is Jeremy Corbyn. Like Wile E Coyote he has run off the cliff. Yes, he’s still leader, but after Copeland, it’s just a matter of time until political gravity exerts its force, most likely in 2018.

Croydon Central is in many ways a bellwether CLP for Corbyn. In 2015, it voted to endorse him 80% to 20%, reflecting the final vote among registered supporters. Last year, it backed him against Owen Smith by 60% to 40%, in line with the eventual overall result. Speaking to party members and local officials over the weekend, estimates of the balance between pro and anti-Corbyn support were 50-50, tipping steadily against the Labour leader with each passing month. Similar movement is being reported in pro-Corbyn CLPs across the country.

By 2018, whether Jeremy Corbyn steps down voluntarily or is challenged, his time as leader will end.

When that happens, four criteria will determine the identity of Corbyn’s successor: parliamentary nominations, Brexit, baggage (absence thereof) and whether they are a woman or a minority.

  1. Nominations

The first goal for candidates is to secure the backing of 15% of their UK and European parliamentary colleagues. This translates as 37 nominations in the PLP and 1 from European Parliamentary Party.

Regardless of how a candidate polls among the general public, their popularity with journalists or the polish of their performance on TV, they need the support of their colleagues to get on the ballot.

The Corbynites are desperate to secure an amendment, which would reduce the nomination threshold from 15% to 5%. The McDonnell amendment – so called after the barely concealed ambition of the shadow Chancellor – would need to be passed by conference and at this stage, it looks unlikely.

The threshold will remain as will the need for a credible level of PLP support. This time round, no nominations will be lent to candidates unable to make the ballot unaided.

  1. Brexit

More than any other issue, Brexit has undone Corbyn. It has united Blairites, the soft left and even sections of the hard left. Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, Momentum, surveyed its 11,000 members during the referendum campaign with 66% backing Remain and 20% Brexit.

Polls suggest that two thirds of Labour voters would vote to Remain in the EU if the referendum were rerun.  For party members and supporters, party officials estimate that this rises to over 80% and among those that vote in a leadership election – which is skewed towards the big city constituencies – pro-EU sentiment is likely north of 90%.

Right now, Tony Blair is closer to the views of the typical Labour party member than at any time since the day he won the leadership. That is the scale of upheaval wrought by Brexit within Labour.

In the leadership contest there will be a simple litmus test: did the candidate oppose triggering Article 50?

A leadership hopeful who had voted with the Tories on Brexit, would have to defend that vote at every hustings, every interview and every CLP meeting.

All of their political oxygen would be sucked up in explaining why they were right and Labour’s leadership selectorate were wrong.

That’s not how elections are won.

There is also a basic operational point about leading the Opposition: if a future Labour leader is not prepared to vote against the government on Brexit, to block a Tory Brexit, what’s the point of the Opposition?

It’s obvious that if the government comes under any serious parliamentary pressure they will resort to the equivalent of a Brexit confidence motion – bundling any contentious individual measures within a package that offers a binary yes or no on the Brexit process.

Labour will be faced with the same choice as at the Article 50 vote.

If the future Labour leader has already said that they won’t oppose Brexit’s progress then defeat is inevitable.

This essential political truth is not just acknowledged by Labour’s leadership selectorate, they feel it at an emotional level.

  1. Baggage

One of the most apposite statements about Tony Blair in 1994 was that he emerged without trace. Left and right within Labour were able to project their hopes and desires onto a relatively blank canvass.

Ed Miliband benefitted in a comparable manner from his lack of parliamentary history in the 2010 leadership campaign. Few seriously believe that had he been in parliament in 2003, he would have rebelled on Iraq, given his mentor Gordon Brown voted in favour. But he was able to claim as much in the 2010 leadership election.

The absence of baggage will be essential in minimising the basis for attacks by opponents, and, more importantly, enabling the candidate to embody the contradictory hopes of members from different wings of the party.

Service in the last Labour government will have saddled prospective candidates with all manner of compromise and 2010 is likely the earliest a leadership could have been elected.

  1. A woman or minority

The final criteria reflects the chasm between Labour’s protestations on equalities and the reality of its choices.

Theresa May is the second Tory woman to lead their party and the country. For many Labour members and supporters, her presence is a testament to Labour’s failure to follow through on its rhetoric.

The hunger for a leader that is not another white man is already palpable.

The table below rates the contenders variously discussed in the media with a red, amber or green against each of the four criteria. Any candidate with a red mark will struggle, particularly in the first two columns.

Based on this analysis, the candidates can be split into four groups.

Hard left successors blocked by the PLP

There’s been a concerted leadership attempt to build up potential Corbynite successors. John McDonnell’s hunger for the job is well known as are his negatives. Recently Rebecca Long Bailey and Angela Rayner have been briefed into the fray. However each faces the same fundamental problem as McDonnell – they won’t get anywhere the necessary nominations from the PLP.

And that’s before their Article 50 votes are taken into account by Labour members and supporters.

Candidates blackballed by the membership over Brexit

Early favourites such as Lisa Nandy and Dan Jarvis would face serious issues with members and supporters given their position on Brexit. Both have defined themselves as speaking up for Labour’s northern, working class heartlands. Both have advocated an emollient approach to Labour supporters drifting towards Ukip over immigration and the importance of respecting the EU referendum vote. Jarvis even went as far as to endorse a numbers target to cut immigration.

Hilary Benn, Caroline Flint and Tom Watson have all echoed these sentiments as have Stephen Kinnock and Keir Starmer.

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of such stances on immigration and Brexit, candidates in this group would be flayed in a campaign played out before Labour members and supporters.

Imagine if, in the 2015 leadership campaign, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall had made supporting the Tories’ welfare reform cuts the centrepiece of their respective platforms. That.

Failed former contenders

Baggage is the problem that former leadership contenders face. Owen Smith’s passionate stance on Brexit and Corbyn’s sliding support, mean he might have won a race in 2017. But he ran last year and was badly beaten. His chance has passed.

Past leadership hopefuls such as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna and Angela Eagle all count as big beasts but carry the baggage of past failed campaigns as well as facing challenges over their Article 50 vote.

The new generation of favourites

Only three MPs do not have any red marks and are green in at least three out of four categories: Heidi Alexander, Clive Lewis and Stella Creasy.

They represent the strongest contenders for the Labour leadership based on what matters to the people who will vote in this contest.

Stella Creasy has a national profile because of her deputy leadership run in 2015 and campaign against payday lenders.

Clive Lewis is the doyenne of soft left commentators (well one in particular) and has started what could be described as a Kinnockite journey towards the centre.

Heidi Alexander is perhaps the unexpected member of the group but she is well liked across the PLP, has solid soft left bona fides and has been a passionate and articulate advocate of a tougher anti-Brexit Labour position.

When Corbyn goes, there will inevitably two or three MPs who secure the nominations and have what might seem on paper a good chance – non-metropolitan seats, pro-triggering Article 50, a focus on Labour heartlands and plenty of friends in the PLP ready to nominate them and brief up their chances.

In this context, it is unlikely that all three of Lewis, Creasy and Alexander could make it onto the ballot.

Clive Lewis might struggle to secure the necessary nominations at the best of times, given his fragile relationship with various PLP-ers, let alone if the pool of available nominations was dimininshed.

Stella also only just made it into the deputy leadership race in 2015 because of a similarly uneasy relationship with many of her colleagues and could face a similar challenge, albeit one she is better placed to surmount.

Only Heidi Alexander could be reasonably confident of making the ballot even if rivals were busy hoovering up nominations.

Her personal standing within the PLP and soft left political positioning make her an archetypal unity candidate.

The campaign itself might throw up surprises.

Candidates well placed at the start might stumble, skeletons might tumble out of the closet.

But at this point, as the runners and riders jockey for position, Clive Lewis, Stella Creasy and Heidi Alexander are most aligned with what the selectorate desire, with Heidi Alexander perhaps a nose in front because of her status within the PLP.

The media might not regard her as a front-runner, but for Labour members and supporters, she could be the next leader.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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27 Responses to “How Labour’s potential leadership candidates measure up against member priorities”

  1. Ben Clay says:

    Sorry to be trite, but based on past experience Heidi Alexander will hardly be grateful for the kiss of death that is a Atul Hatwal endorsement.

  2. Warren Tarbiat says:

    I think David Lammy should be on there, probably better scoring than Heidi Alexander due to voting against Welfare bill & Syria.

    If David Lammy is willing to stand for Leader and gets the nominations I’d think he’d exceed expectations in terms of the selectorate.

  3. Tafia says:

    Listen, can you get something through your thick stupid heads?

    Their position on BREXIT is a complete and total irrelvance. It is a done deal. We are leaving with or without a dea and there will be no second referendum. Start grasping that fundementalk.

    If you want to ditch Corbyn, pick a leader ythat has a POST Brexit vision and have a set of POST Brexit policies. Other wise you are just a waste of oxygen.

    PS – Labor has lost the next election very badly and humiliatingly no matter who is leader. They will have no option other than to quit so stop worrying about your next Leader and concentrate on who should be the one after that.

    And you lot think Corbyn and momentum are in cloud cuckoo land and in denail. It isn’t just him – it’s all of you. Blairites, traditionalists, soft Left, hard Left, the lot. The enitre Labour party from top to bottom, left to right, inside and out.

  4. Frederick James says:

    I think this is a fascinating piece and I love the chart especially.

    I do not agree that McDonnell cannot get onto the ballot by a combination of gerrymandering, coercion and bribery. I would also dispute that being black or female is a necessary condition. Even your rather curious selectorate isn’t quite that shallow – and remember they’ve elected Corbyn twice.

    However, I am probably wrong; nevertheless, even if Atul is right and those are the three candidates that emerge then, speaking as a Tory, I shall thank my lucky stars as they are all utterly hopeless.

    Ten more years.


  5. buttley says:

    “Clive Lewis, Stella Creasy & Heidi Alexander are most aligned with what the selectorate desire”

    Heidi Alexander’s, “soft left political positioning make her an archetypal unity candidate.”

    Keep telling yourself that, if it helps.

    This article reminds me of the time i went to my psychiatrists wearing nothing but cling film.

    He said, “well, i can clearly see your nuts.”

  6. paul barker says:

    I can see 2 problems with this :
    are The three-quarters of The PLP who voted for Brexit going to be happy to be whipped to vote the opposite way ?
    will the voters care ? The big vote has happened, Labour voted for Brexit – thats what voters will remember. Changing direction in 2018/9 will just make Labour look pathetic as well as wrong.

  7. Rob says:

    What do you mean Heidi Alexander doesn’t have baggage? She was the first to resign from JC’s shadow cabinet, of course many in the selectorate will hold this against her!!!

  8. gary says:

    lisa nandy , there thats our next leader sorted , a woman , not from london ( this is important) , well loved throughout the party, from the soft left ( our next leader will be someone. from the soft left as the membership wont vote for a rightwinger and a hard leftie wont get the nominations) , and shes very competent and sensible ,

  9. Ryland Doyle says:

    the answer to this is easy – the person who best reflects the ambitions and aspirations of the electorate at the point the election is held.

  10. LS says:

    “That’s not how elections are won.”

    No, elections are won by not resisting the democratic decision of the British people. Thus those attempting to overturn the referendum result are disqualified with the public at large.

    If those not attempting to overturn the referendum result are disqualified with the Labour party membership, then the Labour party is doomed.

  11. Richard MacKinnon says:

    It has to be a female of the species this time, that much (and only that), Mr. Hatwal got right. All this talk about fairness and equality makes Labour look a bit silly, exhibit 1 Ms.Harriet Harperson. Do you know how much fun that woman has given over the years. She nearly killed The Major, One night in the club, her face appeared on News at Ten, ice cube went down the wrong way. I thought his head was going to explode.
    This time round men need not apply. Sorry boys, I know life can be cruel but this time its a woman all the way. And it has to be a looker. I can’t put a face to the names above but absolutely no point in crowning a old minger.
    My advice, for what its worth, reserve judgement until we’ve seen them in the parade ring.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Tiny hair is closer to the party membership than anytime since his selection!!

    No probably he peaked just before Iraq,or even after tehncial,y when a lot of decent people left,and he had free run, up to April 2006 when he went behind in the polls, and was losing the plot,as we had a disastrous Council elections due to him

    To answer the points here
    Yes Cirbynistas font run many local CLps the ones they do will lose council seats in the next 15 months

    But they make up the jajority of members, excluding the boring old, a Corbynista must be in the ballot paper

    Corbynistas will fight for long BIley, Angela Ryner, or McDonnell to get the nominee,

    The in,y two people who could hold the left at bay were Sadiq Khan, parachuted in,Ina by election January 2020′ or Tom Watson,both made fools of themselves at the Scottish meeting

    The other two who speak to what’s gone wrong with lsbour are Jon Cryer and John Cruddas, I’m no fan, but Cruddas is in top form here

    I’ve said what lsbour needs is a 42 year old Brexiter who voted Ed or Andy in 2010 who was against Iraq, so Gloria De pro is the on,y one who fits that bill,as they’ll have to hwve 10 years doung the Kinnock job and still won’t be PM

    Lisa handy has a good understanding of the facts but so young,too light weight, Jess Philips understands why lsbour is so toxic, abs needs to appeal to ex Labour who vote Ukip,and ex labour who now vote Libdem, possible but hard

    Labour has list great people, like Ann Marie waters, Peter shores Daughter Harriet Yeo to Ukip, the only other person who may appeal is Carole Malone the mirror journalist,who realizes the hatred Shami Charkobrati and Emily Thornberry hwve for the white working class is why we’re so unpopular,and if anyone thinks, my signaling out shami Chakrobarti is racist, then check out @RenieAnjeh in Twitter a black working class man,who thinks those two are all that’s wrong with labour

    Your view that Brexit has made cobyn unpopular by beung in favour of Art.50 is B@@@@cks, that’s not the resin he’s unpopular in fact it was the reason labour kept stoke, he has managed to get the party to accept they were on the wrong side of the argument.

    Not that worrying about te sun,or the mail,is lsbour a biggest problem, but the problem with a female candidate that hampered both Yvette and Liz K’s career was those papers would hwve called them Wimmin, Millie tent,and unless lsbour had Karen Dankzuc, selfie queen as candidate labour would always be tagged with the femenist extremist tag,

    John Mcdonnel wouldn’t left the hard left give up ,control of the party easily, and Clive Lewis being the Kinnock candidate,suffers from the fact Kinnock never won

    Labour also has to get back votes in Scotland ,Frank field suggested Labour should back independence, Charles Clarke suggested a completely independent Scottish lsbour party that does deals with greens Libdems,even some ine nation Tories,

  13. anosrep says:

    “By 2018, whether Jeremy Corbyn steps down voluntarily or is challenged, his time as leader will end.”

    I recall you predicted with equal confidence that Jeremy Corbyn would come fourth in the leadership election.

  14. John p Reid says:

    If Lammy stood his view that brexit should be stopped becuse the public got it wrong, would be ,more derided than Tomy Benns labour lost in 1983 as it wasn’t left wing enough,

    Lol , I’ve just twigged you think voting for article 50 is a baggage, this is the most stupid thing I’ve ever read!!

    Actually Caroline flint yWould be able to hold the party together better, but wit till cintil election 2018 when the greens win seats in Eqstlankdin and Ukip in outer London,

  15. Julius says:

    Hmm… interesting article but not sure about the grid.

    Three things strike me – firstly, that two of the three candidates that are mostly green are London MPs. Could there be a sense in which an ‘authentic’ voice could only be found from the north?

    Secondly, it may be that position on Brexit, and how that is viewed, will depend on constituency – for example, Jarvis, Rayner and Nandy might (and it is only a might) be able to argue that they voted Brexit because the result was overwhelming in their constituency – this may diminish the argument over how they voted.

    Finally, a column should be added about personal popularity in the parliamentary party. I am convinced that Corbyn got the nominations, in part, because a lot of MPs liked him personally. Personality matters in these votes more than simply ideology and may just inch them over the line for nominations.

    I would not rule out Rayner or Nandy in the end.

  16. Tony says:

    The sheer hypocrisy of most Labour MPs is clearly demonstrated by them opposing a reduction in the level of nominations needed for a leadership election.

    How many signatures did they have in order to stand for parliament?

    Answer: Just 10 signatures out of an electorate of 75,000.

  17. Anne says:

    I like the chart and the reasoning behind choices, and I think it is definitely the right thing to do because Corbyn is going to go. The one the media appear to be speculating about is Kier Starmer because of his clear vision on Brexit. I also quite like Mary although she applied once before and did not get very far. I will look more closely at Heidi.
    The real thing about all of this is I am really disliking Teresa May – when first appointed PM I thought she was the best of a bad bunch, but her behaviour and manners are quite frankly appalling – John Major is certainly right on that account. She certainly has put some backs up in the EU before she even starts. She smirks and pulls faces – certainly in the area of bullying. She will have put the Scots against her on her resent visit. Most certainly the ‘nasty’ lady.

  18. john P Reid says:

    Maurice Glasman Came to Havering in Essex fabian meeting the epitome of Working class tory and also Middle class liberals who moved out of the East end 2 generations ago, and haven’t forgot their parents working class routes, so make themselves feel good by being all left wing ,for the little people, the same way that middle class livberals have since moved backed to Islington

    it was about 90% remain, and of the 70 people there, not one criticised him when Maurice came out in favour of brexit, mayb eone of the Fabians thought that blue alobur and labour leave were trying to out Ukip,ukip, but then realised it couldn’t have been further from the truth and as such the fact so many Working class ex labour now vote ukip is because labour took the working class for granted,

    we’ve had 6 ex Libdems who came over to labour 7-8 years ago, the latter few due to the coalition, one a brexiter one a middle class Corbynista remainer, the other 4 backed remain are resigned to the fact we’re leaving and the Olypmics attitude of solidarity convinced them we can go alone, and were more social democrats than, Liberal as such, the things that some Social democrats proposed which was more the Hugh Gatiskell view of labour 60 years ago, fits in with the blue labour stuff, which was brexit

    as such the idea that a remainer would be popular with labours moderates is silly, my family all held their nose voted Owen smith last spetember they all voted leave, and for different reasons ranging form My dad who voted leave as he thinks the EU is a cess pit of corruption, my brother voted due to borders, and my mum voted for sovereignty

    the view that there’s mass appeal for a remainer is just daft, even in Scotland those who twig labour has to work with the Libdems give some lea way on more devolution to get ex SNP votes or even work with one nation tories would all not want a remainer, and the fear of losing money out of the EU wouldn’t bother a Scot who would also now vote independence even if they were warned of losing money as if you live in A council estate in Aberdeen or Edinburgh and told that you could be worse off you’d just say, I’ve got nothing what have i got to lose

  19. buttley says:

    quentin letts impersonator with added misogyny, how very cute.

  20. Anon says:

    Alexander is typical of the London establishment stooges that are alienating the people outside of the London bubble.

    She went absent on votes for or against an EU referendum – originally voting against having one at all before Labour’s hand was forced by the political zeitgeist.

    She has consistently argued against improvement in our governance – and most disgustingly, has voted against the pernicious interference in our political process by so-described ‘charities’ and NGOs.

    When are the likes of Mr Hatwul going to realise that we are fed up of being imposed upon; when is he going to realise that the UK is meant to have a ‘representative’ democracy, and the people of this country are crying out for representation.

    Ms Alexander is the antithesis of everything that people – outside Guardianista London – are crying out for.

  21. Alf says:

    Look on the bright side. 26,000 Blairites have left the party since last summer.

  22. TTP says:

    I agree with Tafia that Brexit is over. Even most of us remoaners are done with all that. And on that basis, I have a tenner on Lisa Nandy at 18/1.

    Nice chart Atul – I love Excel too!

  23. John P Reid says:

    Alf I know a couple of Anti Eu members who left when Lammy and co,, said that article 50 should be scrapped, I know people who’ve been expelled because they backed George Galloway for mayor or called sexist anti Semetic comments to Ruth Smeeth

    Also I’ve seen people leave to join the greens or Women’s equality party,as they don’t think labour is left wing enough,or were disjointed worth corbyn whipping people on art,50

    Some ofthe moderates who’ve left, didn’t join till 7 years ago and were Ed miliband fans certainly not Blairites,

    Anon ,Tony and Julius are right to

    Alf you think if those members were Blairites it would be good we’ve lost 26’000 votes

  24. Ian says:

    Where is the column in the table headed “has the faintest clue how Labour can make itself relevant to the 21st Century and reconcile the sharply conflicting interests of the constituencies it seeks to represent” ??

  25. John P Reid says:

    Ian exactly in fact the only other thing that the liberal democrats who’ve joined and the Blue labour lot,who say they’ll hold their nose vote Ukip have in common, now is they both agree Tom Watson,Rachel reeves saying out up inheritance tax, is a stupid idea from both of them

  26. Alan says:

    Interesting piece. Certainly clear that we can’t continue the way we are. Copeland was the last straw. A bit off topic but if you fancy a laugh I recommend this funny piece on bookies taking bets on whether Trump’s America or Brexit Britain will be the first to descend into open civil war

  27. John P Reid says:

    A lot of kinnockites or blue labour people who backed Ed Miliband in 2010 ,backed Liz Kendall in 2015′ as a Brexiter,i agree with Charles Clarke here,

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