Life After Corbyn? The Politicians Vying to Become Labour Leader

Greg Ritchie, Jessica Shankleman and Alex Morales

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The U.K. Labour Party is looking for a new leader after Jeremy Corbyn announced his plan to resign in the wake of the heavy election defeat on Dec. 12.

The process is expected to begin in January, with his successor given the task of trying to unite a party that has become bitterly divided over Corbyn’s socialist policies and accusations of antisemitism. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair -- the only person to lead Labour to an election victory in 45 years -- has urged a wholesale change of approach.

Despite Corbyn’s failure to win at a national level, his popularity among Labour members will be critical in deciding who follows him. Here are some of the potential candidates:

Rebecca Long-Bailey, 40: The Chosen One

If you were going to build a new Labour leader from scratch, Rebecca Long-Bailey would probably tick most of the boxes: she’s a young and media-savvy woman hailing from a northern constituency with a safe majority.

Crucially, she’s also loyal to the current leadership, even standing in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in June. With the party’s membership still remaining firmly to the left of Labour’s MPs, this could prove crucial in gaining her the support needed to win the contest.

Long-Bailey is close friends with fellow leadership hopeful Angela Rayner, and there have been suggestions they could be the party’s next power duo, akin to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Angela Rayner, 39: The One With the Back Story

Rayner was at the forefront of the party’s election campaign, regularly facing the cameras and leading rallies across the country. Known for her no-nonsense interview style, her backers think she will appeal to traditional supporters Labour has lost in recent years.

In her shadow cabinet role, she spearheaded Labour’s National Education Service, which the party hoped would do for education what the National Health Service did for health. She also has a back story unlike almost any other British politician serving today, leaving school at the age of 16 while pregnant.

Given she’s on good terms with the leadership but also not a fully fledged member of the hard-left faction of the party, she might be a compromise candidate who can unite Labour’s ideological wings. However, there’s one factor that might deter Rayner from putting her hat in the ring: she’s a friend and flatmate of fellow leadership front-runner Long-Bailey, so may go for deputy instead. Labour contests have a habit of tearing apart close friendships, and even family. Just ask the Miliband brothers, David and Ed.

Jess Phillips, 38: The Corbyn Critic

Known for her blunt and witty speeches, 38-year-old Jess Phillips has said she may put her name forward. Despite sharing many of the same left-leaning views as Corbyn, she’s been a vocal critic of the leader, saying he wasn’t capable of winning a majority for Labour. For that reason she’s proved divisive -- hated by many Corbyn supporters who saw her as undermining his efforts.

Phillips, from Birmingham in central England, is characteristically a lone wolf and something of a contrarian. While backing a second Brexit referendum, she declined to join the People’s Vote campaign, and she’s on friendly terms with Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Lisa Nandy, 40: Cheerleader for Towns

Lisa Nandy is emerging as one of the “soft-left” front-runners, telling the BBC she’s “seriously” thinking about running because Labour’s “shattering defeat” left towns like Wigan, where she’s been the MP since 2010, feel like “the earth was quaking.”

A former charity worker, Nandy is media-friendly and her northern roots will be seen as an advantage as Labour seeks to re-engage with traditional voters who abandoned the party in the general election. She co-founded the Centre for Towns, a think tank that aims to revive smaller urban areas.

A Corbyn opponent, Nandy quit as Labour’s energy spokeswoman in 2016 to join an attempt to overthrow him, and served as co-chair in Owen Smith’s failed leadership campaign. She campaigned against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, but since then has argued the EU divorce must be delivered and voted for Johnson‘s deal in October. She voted against it when it was put before Parliament again in December, because she says Johnson’s no longer interested in making cross-party compromises to improve the bill.

Keir Starmer, 57: The Arch Remainer

Corbyn’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said he is “seriously considering” running for the leadership. He hasn’t always been loyal to the current leader -- particularly when it comes to the question of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union. Starmer backed Corbyn’s rivals in the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests and is one of the party’s most vocal Remainers.

While he has been accused of being out of touch with working class Leave voters in northern England, he’s arguably closer to them than Corbyn, who was privately educated.

He also has an impressive career behind him. As a young lawyer, he advised two environmental activists in the long-running “McLibel” case after they distributed a fact-sheet critical of the McDonald’s burger chain. While McDonald’s won the suit, Starmer represented the activists in a subsequent successful case against the U.K. government in the European Court of Human Rights. He went on to be Director of Public Prosecutions, for which he was knighted.

He has positioned himself as a middle-ground candidate who is neither a Corbynite or a Blairite. “I don’t need someone else’s name, some past leader, tattooed to my head to make decisions,” he said in a BBC radio interview. Starmer 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.

Emily Thornberry, 59: Corbyn’s Neighbor

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, was the first to publicly state her intention to run for leader. Writing in the Guardian newspaper, she underlined one of her key strengths: the fact she has a direct record against Boris Johnson. Describing her time opposite Johnson as his shadow while he was foreign secretary, Thornberry said she “took the fight to him every day and pummeled him every week... He hated it, especially coming from a woman.”

A strong media performer with experience in both Ed Miliband’s and Corbyn’s senior leadership teams, Thornberry pushed hard for Labour to back holding a second referendum on Brexit.

Old gaffes may come to haunt her, however. She was forced to resign her shadow cabinet post in 2014 after tweeting a picture of a white van and English flags which was seen as mocking working-class voters -- the very people Labour needs to win back.

She represents Islington South, neighboring Corbyn’s own Islington North and members may question whether another Londoner is the right choice to win back support for Labour across the country. Thornberry said members shouldn’t judge candidates on “where they live in our country” but instead on whether they have the “political nous and strategic vision” needed.

Yvette Cooper, 50: The Inquisitor

After Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015, Yvette Cooper stepped back from front-line politics for the first time in nearly 17 years. But the decision didn’t keep her away from the spotlight as she won a vote of MPs and became chairwoman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, where her forensic scrutiny gained plaudits from both sides of the aisle.

In the chamber, too, Cooper has distinguished herself with eloquent contributions testing the government. She tabled what became known as the “Cooper Amendment” in January, depriving the Treasury of tools in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and inflicting an embarrassing defeat on Theresa May’s government.

One of the many Labour MPs who arrived in Westminster after the party’s 1997 victory, she held senior positions in the governments of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But a record of experience is a record to scrutinize, and members may see Cooper as being too aligned with the ‘New Labour’ period of the party’s history, which Corbyn railed against. Cooper argues Labour needs to take an entirely new path, telling the BBC “both the left and right of this party are seen as internationalist, not patriotic,” and this is losing them support, particularly among older voters.

David Lammy, 47: The Influencer

A Member of Parliament since 2000, David Lammy has grown in prominence as a key voice for justice for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The 2017 disaster claimed the lives of 72 people, including his friend Khadija Saye, an artist, and he has been an outspoken critic of the government response. Also a staunch proponent of the U.K. remaining in the EU, Lammy stood unsuccessfully to be Labour’s candidate in the 2016 London mayoral elections.

Lammy’s social media influence is unparalleled among the leadership hopefuls. Of the current batch of MPs, only the leaders of the two main parties and their immediate predecessors have more Twitter followers than the north London lawmaker. Part of the reason for his strong online following is his combative style, which has seen him take on everyone from TV presenters to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Lammy said after the election he was “thinking about” running for leader. He has since written an article for the Observer newspaper calling for “civic nationalism” to counter what he called Boris Johnson’s “ethnic nationalism.”

Clive Lewis, 48: Loyal Soldier

Shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis was the second Labour MP to officially declare he’s running for leader, announcing in the Guardian newspaper his pitch of giving the party’s membership more say over Labour’s policies and selection of election candidates.

On the left of the party, Lewis said in his 2015 victory speech that the ideology of former prime minister Tony Blair was “dead and buried, and it needs to stay that way.” Later that year, Corbyn credited Lewis for getting his nomination for the leadership “off the ground,” the New Statesman magazine reported. He quit Corbyn’s frontbench team in early 2017 over the party’s Brexit policy, before being welcomed back a year later.

Before becoming an MP, Lewis worked as a BBC journalist and served as a soldier in Afghanistan for three months.

Lewis will likely face scrutiny for several elements of his past when the leadership race officially kicks off. At the 2017 party conference, he was criticized for using a misogynistic phrase. He later apologized for his “unacceptable” language.

(An earlier version corrected details about the ‘McLibel’ court case in 14th paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Ritchie in London at gritchie10@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny, Stuart Biggs

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