Labour is still licking its wounds from the drubbing it got in last week’s election – and leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he will stay in place to enable a “period of reflection”.
Indeed, as has now become fairly standard within the Labour party, the process, and who will be selecting the shortlist, has been muddied already.
Jennie Formby has since clarified that the ruling NEC will convene a special meeting, expected on 6 January, with a race that could run until the end of March, at which point Corbyn will stand down. This is understandably unpopular with those who want to get on with rebuilding the party, who are calling for an interim leader.
Whatever the outcome, the unofficial race is already underway.
Who are the main candidates? Here’s City A.M’s pick of the bunch – and what stands between them and the top (ish) job.
Long-Bailey has not commented yet, but is thought to enjoy the backing of Corbyn – which consequently makes her one of the favourites. The shadow business secretary has already received a wave of endorsements from the likes of John McDonnell and fellow frontbencher Richard Burgon. In her favour is the fact that she was not among those pushing for Labour to adopt a second referendum, and that she represents a northern constituency (Salford and Eccles), as well as the fact she would be the first female Labour leader. But could her role as continuity Corbynite work against her?
In the Remain corner is shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry. She is one of the more experienced names in the frame, and although she would also break the glass ceiling for Labour’s women, she is likely to struggle with what else she has come to symbolise. The Islington South MP, who five years ago had to resign after that tweet from Rochester, is currently caught up in a war of words with former colleague Caroline Flint, who claims Thornberry described Flint’s Leave-backing constituents as stupid. The gloves are off and Thornberry has instructed lawyers. But even if she wins, the bigger question about having another member of the “London elite” leading the party will remain.
The Wigan MP managed to shrug off the Tory assault that dragged many of her northern colleagues under, having urged Corbyn to change approach on Brexit or risk lose Leave-voting seats. She has a long-standing distance with the frontbench, resigning in 2016 to help Owen Smith’s ill-fated contest against Corbyn. She also set up think tank Centre for Towns in 2018, suggesting she has a good grip on some of the other issues that played out this election, and has been backed by Andy Burnham and former deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas to rebuild the so-called “red wall”. Nandy is seen as Long-Bailey’s main rival.
Popular, high-profile, outspoken backbencher Jess Phillips could be a focal point for moderates seeking to bring the party back from the edges of the political spectrum. She was visibly upset by the exit poll on election night, and characteristically blunt about where the blame lay – having been highly critical of Corbyn throughout his leadership. A mother-of-two, and former women’s refuge manager, the Birmingham Yardley indicated her interest by pledging to “take a role” and insisting the party needed change.
Another possibility for moderates, Starmer was one of the architects of Labour’s switch to back a second referendum. The shadow Brexit secretary is seen as the only credible male candidate in the leadership race, but his position on Brexit, and his constituency of Holborn and St Pancras could count against him.
Another Corbyn critic, the Home Affairs Committee chair has won plaudits for her measured approach to many issues, including backing the government over Skripal, and more effectively holding Theresa May and team to account over Windrush, than any of the Labour front bench. However, the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is associated with New Labour and her efforts to block a no deal Brexit could also cost her the role.
The shadow education secretary is also being talked about as a possibility, thanks to her strong campaigning skills and life experience as a young single mum who left school without any qualifications. She describes herself as “soft left” and backed Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election, although she became close to the Corbyn team and shares a London flat with Long-Bailey. She was also the woman behind Labour’s divisive plan to scrap charitable status for private schools.
Unlikely to be a frontrunner, the Norwich South MP has said he is considering throwing his hat in the ring, telling a local newspaper, “I wouldn’t rule it out”.
“I want to play a key role in helping rebuilding our party,” he said.
Plenty of other front bench names have floated about in the past but the likes of Dawn Butler, Richard Burgon Ian Lavery and Barry Gardiner are expected to go for deputy leader.
Main image: Getty