By Paul Waugh
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? Rebecca Long-Bailey has moved to put ‘clear red water’ between herself and Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership race – by committing to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges on taxing the rich, banning arms sales, tackling climate change and ending the gender pay gap. Read the full interview
Long-Bailey, wrong price?
Have the pundits, the bookies, the PLP and the pollsters all got it wrong again? As far as the Labour leadership election is concerned, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a foregone conclusion and that Keir Starmer is moving inexorably to a coronation on April 4.
But it’s perfectly possible that despite all of the impressive endorsements and nominations the shadow Brexit secretary has received to date, his lead over Rebecca Long-Bailey is not as huge as some have assumed.
The bookmakers’ odds certainly seem to underprice the Salford and Eccles MP, putting her on 12/1 against, compared to an impossible-to-back 1/8 on for Starmer (Lisa Nandy is on 16/1 against, while Emily Thornberry is the Grand National rank outsider on 125/1).
As I discovered in our interview (watch the full video at the bottom of our story HERE), Long-Bailey certainly believes she is going to win the race (“obviously”, as she put it). Why such confidence? Well, although Starmer now has 312 nominations from constituency Labour parties (CLPs) to her mere 138, she suggested this was misleading in two ways.
First, she often came a close second in these votes. Second, those CLP meetings simply fail to capture the views of more than a ‘tiny’ proportion of the mass membership, she said. In her own seat, just 100 out of 2,000 members turned up for the nomination meeting. “So a lot of people that you’re trying to reach won’t be active party members. They’ll be political, but they won’t be directly involved in your party locally,” she told me.
Even the Starmer camp accept that maybe only 10% of more than half a million members actually turn up to these CLP meetings. And it’s possible that as soon as Long-Bailey got on the final ballot thanks to Unite and other big union backing, usual stay-at-home members again stayed at home because they saw no need to turn up to nominate her twice.
The counter case is that many of those who haven’t turned up to local meetings are the 100,000 new members who signed up since the election catastrophe on December 12. Anecdotally, they are seen as ‘time for change’ members who are unlikely to back Long-Bailey. Equally anecdotally, Starmer is drawing support in the nomination meetings from Jeremy Corbyn loyalists and they’re not some centrist stitch-up of the most active old guard locally.
It’s also true that Long-Bailey’s twin strengths, Momentum and Unite, may not be as solid as they appear. Momentum has only a tenth of the party’s total membership, and Unite members are not one big homogenous lump (some quite like the look of Nandy and Starmer). The TV debates, the first of which is on Newsnight tonight, could shift things in either direction too.
And yet for all that, there may well be many more Long-Bailey supporters out there than is commonly supposed. In some ways she has actually grown in the leadership race (a bit like Nandy) because she has been given more exposure than ever before, whereas Starmer is already a known quantity. She’s funnier, sparkier and more confident than many of her critics assumed.
Some allies of Starmer still believe the odds are not wrong and he will win by a big margin, possibly even on first preferences. But others fear Long-Bailey is not far behind at all. Her latest attempt to outflank him – by sticking firmly to the manifesto pledges on the gender pay gap, 2030 net zero, arms sales bans and specific tax rates – is another bid to reassure the membership that she won’t junk the Corbynism they all admired.
One Survation poll (though seen as flawed) even gave Long-Bailey the lead last month. The only true picture will probably emerge when the next YouGov poll emerges (I’m told panel members have been asked in recent days about the leadership so perhaps we can expect one soon). If the polling confirms Starmer’s earlier lead, he will breathe a sigh of relief. But if there’s movement for either Long-Bailey or Nandy, the bookies will need to change those long odds.
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Wednesday Cheat Sheet
Cabinet ministers were braced for the sack, and junior ministers for promotion ahead of tomorrow’s reshuffle. Defence secretary Ben Wallace sounded defiant on death row, saying “I’m a veteran, I’m a northern MP, I was actually in the army. So I think all those hopefully qualify me”.
The House of Commons approved all stages of the emergency terrorism legislation drafted after the Streatham knife attacks. It now moves to the Lords after February half-term.
Labour expelled 25 of its members in a single day over anti-semitism allegations, party sources have confirmed.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that HS2 could run slower north of Birmingham to cut costs. He also said the sale of petrol and diesel cars could be brought forward to 2032, three years earlier than proposed.
The British government has suspended its £4.7m funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the BBC revealed, until its secretariat improves its financial procedures.
Outgoing culture secretary Nicky Morgan revealed that Ofcom will be put in charge of regulating the internet. Online giants face big fines or prison sentences if they fail to protect users from “harmful and illegal content”.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox suggested candidates for the Supreme Court could face Canadian-style pre-appointment interviews by a parliamentary committee of MPs.
What I’m Reading
Why This Reshuffle Won’t Be Easy – Paul Harrison
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