Labour leadership: Who are the candidates and what do they stand for?

Leadership contest will conclude on 4 April when party unveils Jeremy Corbyn’s successor

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 07 January 2020 16:12 GMT
Rebecca Long-Bailey becomes sixth MP to announce Labour leadership bid

The race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn formally kicks off today as candidates vying to replace him as Labour leader face questions from members of the Parliamentary Labour Party in Westminster.

As it stands there are six leadership hopefuls from across the party standing in the contest, which will culminate with the unveiling of the new leader on Saturday 4 April.

In the first round of the contest – ending on 13 January – the candidates must convince the party they can revive Labour from its worst electoral defeat since 1935 and secure the backing of 22 of the party’s MPs and MEPs to remain in the race.

Keir Starmer

The shadow Brexit secretary officially confirmed his bid for the Labour leadership at the weekend in a newspaper article claiming “another future is possible”, but has previously admitted the party has a “mountain to climb” to return to power.

Before being elected to parliament to serve Holborn and St Pancras in 2015, Keir Starmer was awarded a knighthood for services to law and criminal justice for his work as the director of public prosecutions. He has previously rejected criticisms levelled at him of being too middle-class for the role and recalled how his mother worked as a nurse while his father was employed as a factory toolmaker.

“The idea that somehow I personally don’t know what it’s like for people across the country in all sorts of different circumstances is just not borne out,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme after the general election.

Sir Keir draws supporters from across the party and is said to have already convinced enough MPs to back his leadership ambitions. Aware of Labour’s left-leaning membership, who will ultimately decide the next leader, he has been careful not abandon Jeremy Corbyn’s radical policies.

“What Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Labour Party in 2015 was a change in emphasis - a radicalism that matters, and the rejection of austerity. We need to build on that, rather than oversteer and go back to some bygone age,” he said in December.

“The case for a radical government has never been stronger. The shift to a more radical position in 2015 and that rejection of austerity was really important.”

He was also a prominent supporter in the shadow cabinet of Labour shifting to back to a pro-Final Say referendum. According to a recent poll of the party’s membership by YouGov, Sir Keir enjoys 31 per cent of first preferences support – 11 per cent ahead his closest rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Rebecca Long Bailey

The Salford and Eccles MP entered the race to succeed Mr Corbyn with an article for the left-wing Tribune magazine, vowing to build a “winning vision of a socialist future” and to “go to war with the political establishment”.

Ms Long Bailey has repeatedly highlighted her childhood experience of growing up in the shadow of Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium and watching her father worry about job losses as a docker and trade union representative. She worked as a solicitor in her twenties and was a relative newcomer into Labour politics before being elected in 2015 to replace Hazel Blears. Considered a protégé of the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, she quickly climbed the ranks of Corbyn’s Labour Party before becoming the shadow business secretary in 2017.

Since announcing her leadership bid Ms Long Bailey has been described as a “continuity Corbyn” candidate – a label she rejects – after making clear she will stick with Labour’s radical agenda, especially the Green New Deal she claims party strategists “tragically undersold”.

“I don’t just agree with the policies, I’ve spent the last four years writing them,” she added.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Long Bailey also insisted she would not return to Ed Miliband era of “controls on immigration” being showcased on the side of the Labour Party mugs, adding claims that immigration depresses wages are wrong.

On Trident, the nuclear deterrent system, which Mr Corbyn refused to say he would use, she said: “If you have a deterrent you have to be prepared to use it.”

Ms Long Bailey is widely considered to be one of the top two candidates to succeed Mr Corbyn in April and has already attracted the prominent backing of Ian Lavery. the party chairman who had been mulling his own leadership bid, and that of her close friend Angela Rayner, who is also running for the deputy leadership position. Whether the left-leaning members are enticed by Sir Keir or another left-wing candidate, such as Clive Lewis, however, remains to be seen.

Clive Lewis

One of the first contenders to enter the leadership race in the aftermath of the disastrous general election campaign, Clive Lewis said: “I’m standing to leader of the Labour Party for the simple reason that if I don’t, certain necessary truths may go unspoken during the debates of the coming months”.

Before joining Labour’s parliamentary ranks, Mr Lewis grew up in a council estate in Northampton with his English mother and father, who came to the UK from Grenada, and worked in a good processing factory before becoming a full-time trade union official. Mr Lewis eventually worked as a BBC journalist, and an army reservist, who served in Afghanistan.

In a recent article for The Independent, Mr Lewis wrote: “My Granddad instilled in me a great sense of civic duty through his stories of fighting the Nazis during the war. He also fostered a sense of black pride and struggle in me, as he taught me about colonial history.

Clive Lewis

“My sense of belonging didn’t come from some idealised construct of the past but was created in the present, through the everyday experiences of the people I grew up with. This sense of belonging based on shared values and interests is what I want to bring to our country now.”

So far in the contest, Mr Lewis, who was one of the most prominent backers of a second referendum, has backed a shift to proportional representation voting system, reform of the House of Lords and suggested that Labour should “reach out to every progressive force in the country – parties, campaigns and movements – for the biggest conversation possible about how, together, we can change our country for the better”.

But given a sizeable proportion of the left-wing MPs’ votes are likely to head in Ms Long Bailey’s direction, it is not yet clear whether Mr Lewis, the shadow treasury minister, will have sufficient support in the Parliamentary Labour Party to make it through to the second round.

Emily Thornberry

Announcing her decision to run for Labour leader Emily Thornberry made clear she had been an opponent of an early general election, and warned Jeremy Corbyn’s office it had been an “act of catastrophic political folly”.

She was brought up on a council estate near Guildford in Surrey by her mother when her father, a human rights lawyer and academic, walked out on his family. “I was born into the Labour Party,” she once said, claiming she delivered leaflets by the “age I could reach the letter box”. Before being elected as the MP for Islington South and Finsbury in 2005, Ms Thornberry also studied law at Kent University and went on to become a human rights barrister.

Ms Thornberry has been loyal to Mr Corbyn – a constituency neighbour – throughout his leadership but, like Sir Keir, was sidelined during the campaign for her vocal support of a second Brexit referendum – and once even dressed up as an EU flag. She has also won plaudits for her performance at the despatch box as shadow foreign secretary and has previously stood in for the Labour leader at prime minister’s questions.


On policy, she has previously said there was “nothing” in the manifesto she disagreed with, but rather: “When you put it all together, it did look like we were promising to deliver the earth, the moon and stars”. In recent days, she also attacked Boris Johnson, her former opposite number in the House of Commons, over the Iranian crisis in the aftermath of the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

She accused the prime minister of “sunning himself, drinking vodka martinis” in the Caribbean instead of dealing with the fallout from the death of the Iranian official. She also warned of a “lurch towards war” because of Donald’s Trump’s “reckless decision” to kill one of the most prominent figures in the Iranian regime.

It is not yet clear with Ms Thornberry has the required support from Labour MPs to pass through to the next round of the contest. According to polling by YoGov, she also finishes in the bottom two, alongside Lisa Nandy, in terms of Labour members’ first preferences for the next leader of the party.

Jess Phillips

Entering the leadership contest, Jess Phillips declared that politics “needs an honest voice” as she launched a campaign video detailing her community activism in Birmingham over a decade ago.

“People want some fairly basic things,” she declared. “They want to know that their children can be educated and if they are ill, that they will be made better. Those things are radical to great parts of our country at the moment because they simply don’t exist.”

Before being elected to parliament in 2015 she worked in women’s refugees, helping victims of domestic abuse, and has since read out the names of those killed by their partners each year in the House of Commons. In an interview with The Sunday Times over the summer, Ms Phillips said she was brought up in a working-class community in Birmingham as her “bearded lefty” father worked as a teacher and healthcare manager.

During one recent speech to MPs, she said: “I thought I had met posh people before I came here, but I had actually just met people who eat olives”.

Related video: Jess Phillips launches Labour leadership bid

Perhaps the most prominent critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party, Ms Phillips has become a high-profile figure in the Labour Party, despite not serving on the frontbench. She has also been vocal of the party’s “woeful response” to antisemitism allegations within its ranks.

She has been a supporter of a second referendum, but appeared to row back on her suggestion at the weekend that the party could campaign to rejoin the EU under her stewardship if the Brexit proved damaging.

Ms Phillips is likely to draw her support in the Parliamentary Labour Party from those who have been critical of Mr Corbyn’s leadership and more moderate-leaning MPs. But given the left-wing persuasion of the party’s membership she faces a monumental challenge if she is to emerge as the next Labour leader in April.

Lisa Nandy

The Wigan MP since 2010 officially entered the race several days into the new year, and warned party members that if the party fails to change course “we will become irrelevant”.

Launching her campaign in the Wigan Post, she said that without “what were once our Labour heartlands” Labour will never win back power in Westminster.

Ms Nandy and former shadow cabinet minister launched the Centre For Towns think tank - something which could give her an advantage in understanding why voters in former industrial Labour heartlands switched to the Tories. She said that too many people "no longer feel they have a voice in our national story" and did not believe that politicians were interested in what they had to say.

Before being elected in 2010, Ms Nandy worked for the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint and The Children's Society. She grew up in a highly political household: her Indian father, Dipak Nandy, was a Marxist academic, and her grandfather Frank Byers served the Liberal Party in the House of Commons before becoming a life peer. She studied politics at Newcastle University and became a councillor before running for parliament.


Ms Nandy, who is often described to be from the “soft left” in the Labour Party, said “trust” was the key issue in why Labour lost the election. Hinting she will stick with key policies of Labour’s manifesto, she said “people felt it was a no-brainer” when talking about the renationalisation of the railways.

But she added: “When we said that we would offer free broadband, I remember somebody in Leigh saying, “I just want a functioning bus network.”

She insisted it was “looking very positive” in regards to getting on the ballot paper during an interview at the weekend, but appears at the bottom of members’ first preferences for the next leader in a recent poll.

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