(Bloomberg) -- Rebecca Long Bailey, the front-runner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, said the U.K.’s main opposition party should be a champion for “progressive patriotism” as it seeks to recover from its worst electoral performance in more than 80 years.
Laying out her vision for the party -- but stating only that she’s considering a run for leader -- Long Bailey wrote in the Guardian newspaper that Labour’s “compromise” position on Brexit was party to blame for the electoral rout this month, but said that lack of trust in Labour’s program was also an issue among voters. Labour’s business spokeswoman also said she would back Angela Rayner, the party’s education spokeswoman, as deputy leader.
Though the formal succession process isn’t expected to begin until January, with an election likely in March, the jostling for support is well under way. Long Bailey, 40, is widely viewed as the current leadership’s preferred choice, having stood in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in June. She also ticks many party members’ boxes as a young and media-savvy woman from a northern constituency.
“We must rebuild trust, not only in our party but in the idea that change really is possible. This means we cannot return to the politics of the past,” Long Bailey wrote in her Monday editorial, which retained some of the core themes of Corbyn’s tenure. “Real wealth and power must be returned to the people of Britain, and their desire for control over their own lives and the future of their communities must be at the heart of our agenda.”
But the race to succeed Corbyn -- who said he will stand down after the catastrophic losses -- is exacerbating deep-rooted divisions in the party, and Long Bailey’s intervention comes after former members of Parliament who lost seats this month demanded an “unflinching” review into why the leader’s message had proved such a turnoff among voters.
“We need to be honest about why our outgoing leadership’s reflexive anti-Western world view was so unpopular, and address the reasons for that unpopularity,” Labour politicians including Mary Creagh, Emma Reynolds and Anna Turley -- all from former Labour strongholds that voted Conservative in the election this month -- wrote in a letter to the Observer newspaper on Sunday. “Fundamental change at the top of our party is required.”
Read more: Life After Corbyn? The Politicians Vying to Become Labour Leader
Corbyn’s allies are also divided over whether Long Bailey has the broad appeal needed to win over the Labour membership, according to a report in the Sunday Times. The newspaper also said Ian Lavery, the party’s pro-Brexit chairman, is considering running for the top job himself, which could split the Corbyn vote and boost the prospects of Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, who is significantly more pro-European than Corbyn’s team.
Starmer has so far said only that he is “seriously considering” a bid for the leadership, though he has also set out his stall as a middle-ground candidate between the centrist leaning of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has urged a complete overhaul of the party, and the socialist views of Corbyn. Starmer has also warned the party not to “oversteer” as a result of the election defeat, arguing that Labour should “build on” Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and radical agenda.
Only Emily Thornberry, the foreign policy spokeswoman, and Corbyn loyalist Clive Lewis have officially declared their candidacies. Lewis on Monday told BBC radio that the party needs to look at why it couldn’t connect with its traditional voters in the north of England and the Midlands, saying the origins of the defeat precede 2010, when the Conservatives came to power after 13 years of Labour rule.
“When we talked to people and said to people ‘we understand your lives,’ we were saying to them that they only got worse after 2010, and that clearly wasn’t their experience,” Lewis said. “Many of these towns, many of these communities, their lives, their communities, had been ripped apart a lot earlier than that and they hadn’t been rebuilt under those Labour years.”
Another potential candidate is 38-year-old Jess Phillips, a strong critic of Corbyn despite sharing many of his left-leaning views. Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh wrote in the Sunday Times that Phillips has “got what it takes. She connects with people like no other.”
The potential for Rayner, who was at the forefront of Labour’s election campaign, to run as Long Bailey’s deputy was also widely flagged. Known for her no-nonsense interview style, Rayner’s backers think she will appeal to traditional supporters Labour has lost in recent years. The two are also friends and flatmates.
The question for all the candidates will be how closely to stick to Corbyn’s manifesto pledges, which included nationalization of key utilities and the provision of free broadband to all U.K. households. How to reshape the party’s response to allegations of antisemitism that consistently undermined the party under Corbyn’s leadership will also feature prominently.
“Our task is to rebuild the broad base of support that will get us into government and this work must begin immediately,” Long Bailey wrote. “We must recognize that it’s no good having the right solutions if people don’t believe you can deliver them.”
(Updates with comment from Lewis in 9th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Alex Morales.
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