By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — The Labour party’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer is the early front-runner in the party’s leadership race, securing 89 nominations, more than twice as many as any other candidate, as the deadline for nominations passed on Monday (13 January).
Four other candidates – Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry – also reached the threshold of 22 nominations from the party’s MPs and MEPs by the Monday (13 January) deadline.
The campaign to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, who announced his plans to stand down as party leader following December’s heavy election defeat to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, will now go to a ballot of the party’s roughly 500,000 members and affiliated trade unions and societies.
Starmer has also won the backing of the UK’s largest trade union, Unison, which has 1.3 million members.
However, Long-Bailey, the party’s business spokesperson, has the support of Corbyn’s faction and Momentum, a pro-Corbyn campaign group. The Unite union, whose leader Len McLuskey has been one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies, and which is the main financial donor to the party, is set to decide its position later this month.
Labour’s defeat in December, which represented its worst general election performance since 1935, was widely blamed on Corbyn’s leadership and unpopularity, as well as its confused Brexit policy.
During the election campaign, Corbyn said that, if elected, he would negotiate a new Brexit deal that would then be put to an ‘in’/’out’ referendum, though he insisted he would remain neutral on the issue.
Of the five candidates, only Jess Phillips has openly said that the party could campaign for the UK to rejoin the EU and that she would not change her view that the UK was “better off” as an EU member.
Having been among the strongest supporters within Labour for a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership, both Starmer and Thornberry now say that Boris Johnson’s election win has settled the matter and the party should focus on holding Johnson accountable during the negotiations on future trade and political relations with the EU.
Whoever succeeds Corbyn faces a daunting task: the prospect of winning back seats in the Midlands and northern England that turned Conservative for the first time in generations, and a dominant Johnson government with an 80 seat majority that is likely to govern for a full five year term.