The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party have fired the starter pistol for the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn. The main contestants have bolted out of the gates, with six candidates already announcing their intention to stand for the top job. But it is clear that the battle for the leadership position is a two-horse race.
On the right of the party, the so-called ‘moderates’ have rallied around Keir Starmer. On the left, Rebecca Long-Bailey – ‘RLB’ – is the clear option for those looking to continue the Corbyn movement.
Grassroots members, trade unionists, and left-wing activists must mobilise now to ensure that there is no return to the right. This means throwing all of our forces behind Long-Bailey.
Most importantly, we must ensure that RLB runs on a platform of clear socialist policies. This means committing to the radical demands contained in the last manifesto – for public ownership of rail, mail, and utilities; fighting austerity; scrapping tuition fees; abolishing anti-trade union laws; reversing privatisation and outsourcing – and much more: militant opposition to imperialist wars; sweeping away the House of Lords; and nationalisation of the banks, land, and big construction companies.
Only on this basis can a left leadership campaign galvanise support from rank-and-file members, supporters, and trade unionists – and thus ensure victory against those looking to take us back to Blairism.
Having pressured Corbyn and McDonnell to stand down in the wake of the recent election defeat, the Blairites now spy an opportunity to strengthen their grip over the party.
Right-wing factions Labour First and Progress, for example, have launched a ‘Reclaiming Labour’ campaign, calling on their supporters to sign up and help bring Labour “back to the mainstream” (read: return to Blairism).
Their hopes of success in this project have been raised by a recent YouGov poll which showed that Keir Starmer is the currently preferred candidate amongst surveyed Labour members. After other rivals are eliminated – including Emily Thornberry, Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy, and Jess Phillips (all of whom have confirmed their intention to stand) – Starmer is predicted to win in a head-to-head contest against Long-Bailey by a sizeable 61%-to-39% margin.
However, even the survey organisers themselves admit the glaring flaws in this poll. For starters, the YouGov survey was only of Labour members, and did not account for affiliated members and registered supporters. These latter categories made up over 40% of the franchise in the last leadership contest (in 2016); and both groups then saw higher levels of support for Corbyn than that amongst party members.
Most importantly, this poll – like any survey – is only a static snapshot of an ongoing process. Opinion can, and will, change dramatically over the course of the contest.
RLB is a relatively unknown figure compared to Starmer, who has benefitted from being Labour’s Brexit representative in a period when Brexit is pretty much the sole issue in British politics. Indeed, YouGov’s own figures say that Starmer and Long-Bailey are currently the 32nd and 56th most famous Labour politicians respectively.
And this is not to mention the reams of glowing media coverage that Starmer – a knight of the realm – has received in recent years for his ‘statesmanlike’ qualities, i.e. for being a reliable representative of the establishment and their Remain campaign.
All of this can quickly change once the campaign begins in earnest. As the only genuine candidate of the left, Long-Bailey should gain the backing of important trade unions such as Unite and influential organisations such as Momentum. This support alone will provide a big boost to RLB’s visibility and popularity.
Media appearances and televised debates will offer yet more opportunities for Long-Bailey to shine through – provided the Salford and Eccles MP emphasises the left-wing demands and socialist pledges that have helped to put her on the map in the first place, including a commitment to the ideas contained within the words of the old Clause IV:
"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry...upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange...”
As Rebecca Long-Bailey herself correctly stated at the last Labour Party conference in relation to this socialist clause: "it might not be on the back of our membership cards anymore, but it’s in our hearts."
RLB's campaign must also include demands for greater party democracy – in particular, for the mandatory reselection (‘open selection’) of Labour MPs, in order to clear out the Blairite gangsters in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), who will no doubt be throwing their weight behind Starmer in the hope of wrestling control away from the Corbyn movement.
Sabotage and civil war
Whilst some Blairites might be feeling hopeful of their chances, not all of their leading lights are so optimistic.
Writing in the Guardian before Christmas, Roy Hattersley – the deputy Labour leader under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s, who helped lead the witch-hunt against the Marxists in the party – regretfully states that: “Rebecca Long Bailey, Corbyn’s anointed successor, is the favourite to succeed him as party leader.”
In one of his now-stereotypical rants, Hattersley then goes on to describe the dramatic extent to which the Labour right wing have lost control of the party:
“Momentum infiltrated constituency parties, enrolled enough delegates to successive annual conferences to gain a stranglehold on party policy, took effective control of Labour’s national executive committee and attempted – with a measure of success – to ‘deselect’ Labour MPs who did not share its prejudices.”
The Economist journal, a reliable mouthpiece for the establishment, concurs with the former deputy leader’s assessment, concluding that: “Corbynism as a philosophy is probably here to stay for some time to come...the party as a whole has little desire to return to the centre...Blairism will remain in the grave.”
Faced with a new (democratically-elected) left-wing party leader, all that Hattersley can desperately suggest is that right-wing MPs should “refuse to accept the imposition of a leader who does not command their confidence”.
In other words, the strategy of the Blairites remains the same: open sabotage and civil war. This underlines why the demand for mandatory reselection is more relevant than ever – to boot out these agents of big business who continue to infest the PLP.
The focus of the left’s campaign in this leadership contest must be that of bold demands and a positive vision for the socialist transformation of society. But we must also expose Starmer for what he is: a stooge of the establishment.
Starmer’s senior position in the shadow cabinet gives him an undue air of authority amongst some members. Meanwhile, in combination with appeals to ‘unite’, ‘come together’ and form a ‘broad church’, he will wrap himself in a veneer of pseudo-left-wing rhetoric in order to play the part of wolf in sheep’s clothing. But rank-and-file activists will not be so easily fooled.
Candidates such as Jess (“I would stab Corbyn in the front”) Phillips are far too toxic to be sold to an overwhelming left-wing membership. Others such as Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy will also fail to resonate with members. In due course, therefore, the Labour right wing and the capitalist press will close ranks around Keir Starmer, demonstrating whose interests he really represents.
As the campaign picks up and reality sets in, Starmer will have an increasingly hard time selling his CV to activists who are looking to build a movement capable of kicking out the Tories.
With his knighthood, and as MP for the inner-city London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, Starmer is not exactly the prime candidate to help Labour win back working-class voters in the north. Prior to Labour’s election defeat, meanwhile, he was also a leading proponent of the epic failure that was the campaign for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’.
And as Aesop’s old adage goes, you should judge a person not by the words they speak, but by the company they keep. In this respect, Starmer is off to a shaky start, with recent revelations showing the political links between the shadow Brexit secretary and former champion of the Blairites, Owen Smith.
RLB, by comparison, has been endorsed by prominent left-wingers such John McDonnell and party chair Ian Lavery. The latter had been rumoured as a possible replacement for Corbyn. But the socialist MP for Wansbeck has recently announced that he will instead be standing aside to support Long-Bailey’s bid.
Carrying the torch
Whilst Starmer would be a Trojan horse for the Labour right wing, offering a congealed mess of reheated Blairism, RLB would be a torchbearer for the Corbyn movement. Her credentials demonstrate a proven track record of representing the left-wing aspirations of Labour’s mass membership.
Announcing her intention to stand, Long-Bailey declared that: “We need a proud socialist to lead the Labour Party, driven by their principles and an unwavering determination to see democratic socialism in our lifetime.”
Alongside emphasising her role in spearheading the campaign for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, RLB has also called for Labour to “upend the broken political system that has held back our communities for decades”.
“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.”
“Voters came to see Labour as part of the problem, another bunch of politicians making promises we couldn’t keep,” the left-wing candidate correctly declared, writing for the Tribune magazine. “We’ve been too close to the establishment we are meant to be taking on...We must go to war with the political establishment.”
In the same piece, Long-Bailey assuaged fears surrounding a previous call for “progressive patriotism”:
“Let me be clear...never again will our party put ‘controls on immigration’ on a mug. It would be a betrayal of our principles, and of our core supporters and activists. We must defeat Johnson and the nationalist right, never pander to them.”
This is the kind of fighting talk and militant class-based demands that is needed to enthuse Labour activists – both to come out and vote in this leadership contest, and then to continue with the task of building a movement that can take the fight to Boris’ billionaire government.
Beware of political chameleons
In parallel with the Labour leadership race, members and supporters will also be deciding who replaces Tom Watson as deputy leader. The fact that Watson was able to use this position as a launch pad for endless attacks against Corbyn and the left shows the importance of now putting a genuine left-winger in place.
Similarly, we must not forget how Watson initially presented himself as a left candidate for the role, before appointing himself as Witchfinder General and becoming the ringleader of every Blairite plot to undermine Corbyn.
In this respect, members should be wary of candidates such as Angela Rayner. On the one hand, the shadow education secretary is astute enough to know which way the wind is blowing, and has therefore declared her support for Long-Bailey. On the other hand, Rayner has distanced herself from the Corbyn movement, declaring at her campaign launch event that she is “not a Corbynite”.
Instead of supporting this unreliable political chameleon, grassroots activists should throw their weight behind Richard Burgon, who has also declared his intention to stand for the deputy leadership position.
This analysis by @RichardBurgon is spot on. I’m glad he’s standing for Deputy Leader: “Labour must be the champion of the whole working class & ensure we are a party that reflects the diversity of the working-class in 21st century multicultural Britain.” https://t.co/v0abWMyUSJ— Laura Pidcock (@LauraPidcock) January 5, 2020
Like Rebecca Long-Bailey, and unlike Rayner, Burgon is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. And, again, unlike Rayner, the Leeds East MP has been closely associated with the Corbyn movement from the get go, speaking militantly from the platform at Momentum events, anti-war rallies, and anti-austerity demonstrations.
Momentum and the trade unions should now show Burgon the support that he has shown them over the last five years, mobilising rank-and-file members and left-wing activists in support of his candidacy.
Together, around a programme of socialist demands, Long-Bailey and Burgon can provide the kind of strong left-wing leadership that is needed to build a mass, fighting labour movement.
Fight for socialism
Under the timeline decided by the NEC, the new Labour leadership will be in place in three months time, with the winners announced at a special conference on Saturday 4 April.
To make it onto the ballot paper, however, potential challengers first need to win the support of 10% of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Candidates therefore have until next Monday to gather the necessary 22 nominations from MPs and MEPs.
After that, contestants must also gain the backing of at least 5% of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs); or the endorsement of several affiliated organisations, such as trade unions, representing at least 5% of affiliated members. These nominations close on Friday 14 February, with the ballot opening a week later on 21 February.
Those eligible to vote will be Labour members and affiliates (including those in trade unions such as Unite, Unison, Usdaw, etc.), as well as registered supporters. The latter will have a 48-hour window to sign up (between 14-16 January), but will need to pay an eye-watering £25 for the privilege, as in the 2016 contest.
At the same time, anyone joining as a party member or affiliated member has until 20 January to apply in order to be entitled to a vote.
In the 2016 battle – between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith – over half-a-million members, affiliates, and supporters ultimately cast their vote, with Corbyn storming to victory on 62%. This included around 280,000 party members and 100,000 affiliated members. And despite the huge financial barrier, over 120,000 supporters ended up registering, with 70% casting their vote for Corbyn.
The immediate task for grassroots activists now, therefore, is to organise and carry out a massive recruitment drive. Momentum and the trade unions must spearhead a campaign to get left-wingers and Corbyn supporters into the party.
The inspiring mass campaign seen in the recent election shows the enormous reserves that exist in this respect. Huge numbers came out onto the streets and flooded into marginals across the country, in an effort to secure a Labour win. Many of these were not party members at the time – although Labour is reported to have experienced a surge of 30,000 new members in the week after the election. With a concerted push at all levels, thousands more could be encouraged to join and help bring about an RLB-Burgon victory.
The key lesson, however, is the central role of the programme in this. Those activists who braved cold winter nights to campaign for Labour in the last election did so because they were inspired into action by a bold manifesto of radical demands. Similarly for the tens-of-thousands who signed up to vote for Corbyn in both the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests.
If the left wants to repeat these successes, then we must take these lessons on board. In order to continue the Corbyn movement and guarantee a left victory, we need to mobilise and energise workers and youth around a bold programme of clear socialist policies – including demands for mandatory reselection to boot out the Blairite saboteurs. This is the take-home message of the last five years.