Which Leadership Candidate Could Transform Labour’s Fortunes?

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed that he is entering Labour’s leadership race. He is currently the favourite to win the contest. His declaration comes hours after Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips announced they were entering the competition.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and Shadow Treasury Minister Clive Lewis have also stated that they are standing.

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, another favourite, is also expected to officially join the race.

Whoever succeeds Corbyn has a monumental task awaiting them. Last year, Labour suffered its worst defeat since the 1935 General Election. With the SNP having won almost every seat in Scotland and the Tories winning in traditional Labour heartlands, it is almost certain that Labour has already lost the 2024 General Election. The best result the next leader can hope for is to increase the number of seats Labour currently hold.

Labour’s Brexit policy was one of the biggest factors that went against them in last year’s election. The Conservatives succeeded in winning 74 percent of the Leave vote, up by 9 points from 2017, whilst Labour only won 14 percent of Leave voters, down by 10 points since 2017. Labour’s support among Remain voters also shrunk by 6 points to 49 percent last year.

Another factor that went against Labour was Corbyn’s unpopularity. A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI in September 2019 for the Evening Standard discovered that the Labour leader had a net satisfaction of -60, with 76 percent of people unhappy with his leadership.

With the current leader’s supporters dominating the party’s National Executive Committee, this gives anyone close to Corbyn an advantage, which is why Long-Bailey is seen as a frontrunner. Although policies like raising the tax rate for higher earners were popular among 64 percent of pollsters in one YouGov poll, 53 percent of people branded Labour’s policies as unaffordable.

This immediately puts Long-Bailey, Thornberry, or Lewis at a disadvantage if either one of them become the next Labour leader. The three of them are all unashamed Corbyn supporters, with Lewis once declaring ‘New Labour as dead.’ The best decision a future Labour leader can make is to steer the party away from the far-left policies that many voters perceived as expensive and unrealistic.

Thornberry is also prone to gaffes. She was sacked from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet in 2014 for mocking white van drivers with England flags. Former Conservative MP Ed Vaizey told Good Morning Britain a Thornberry victory would be ‘good news’ for the Tories. But neither she nor Lewis are likely to do well.

The Daily Express surveyed 4,000 people and found that 31 percent of readers liked none of the candidates. Nandy was the most popular choice, with 818 readers opting for her. Whoever wins the Labour leadership race will find it tough to convince the electorate to vote for them.

Nandy has some advantages in her favour. She urged Labour to respect the result of the 2016 EU Referendum and understands that her party must change course immediately if it hopes to win an election in the future. But a YouGov poll found that only 6 percent of members are willing to vote for her.

Phillips wrote in the Daily Mirror that she has a record of working as a community activist and is the daughter of two public sector workers, which she believes makes her more in touch with working-class voters than the other candidates. She has been praised by different newspapers like the Daily Record and the Standard, but polls suggest she would come third in a leadership race behind Starmer and Long-Bailey.

Starmer is the favourite to win the Labour leadership race and has pitched his campaign on the idea that he would not advocate far-left policies. He has the best chance of revitalising Labour’s fortunes if he initiates a New Labour strategy that allowed the party to perform so well in the 1990s and the 2000s. Polling carried out by BMG Research found the Shadow Brexit Secretary was the most popular choice among voters.

But anything can change in a three-month leadership contest. Andy Burnham was expected to win against Yvette Cooper in 2015 and Corbyn’s candidacy upset the race. The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush also said Corbyn may not endorse Starmer and his opinion could change everything.

Therefore, Starmer is the best hope of transforming Labour’s fortunes. He is the one most likely to win the leadership race and he has a more sensible outlook than his main rival, Long-Bailey. But David Miliband was also the most popular candidate among voters in 2010 and he lost the Labour leadership race that year. Labour leadership contests from the 2010s prove that Labour members and the public have very different outlooks.