(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Corbyn without the beard

Rebecca Long Bailey does not do triangulation

Artillery Row

The Labour Party’s leadership elections are still in the prelude phase, yet three questions have already been answered.

The first is whether Labour’s ruling NEC would make changes to the voting terms and conditions and how such modifications might notionally hurt or help Momentum’s preferred candidate. One theory was that lengthening the sign-up period would assist the reform candidates (as non-continuity Corbyn candidates might be styled) since Corbynistas had presumably already paid their subs to support their man’s bid for office.

Such calculations have abated since Monday’s NEC meeting. In deciding to leave the rules much as they were for the 2016 leadership election (when Corbyn trounced his challenger, Owen Smith) affiliated supporters will pay £25 for the privilege of voting-in the leader of a party of which they are not formally a member. In keeping with last time, they will have a two-day window to sign-up to do so. We remain where we were.

The second question was which of the reform candidates would show themselves for battle. We now know that neither the most experienced option (Yvette Cooper) nor the one that Tories might reasonably fear capable of putting tanks on their own lawn (former Paras’ officer, Dan Jarvis) is up for it.

Voters looking for a reformer will therefore have to discern whether Sir Keir Starmer or Lisa Nandy offers their best hope (the maverick option of Jess Phillips comes with no clear philosophical tilt). Initial polling suggests that Sir Keir is the favourite. But opinion polls of party members have great difficulty in being properly representative.

The final question has been answered by Rebecca Long Bailey’s long-awaited entry into the race and Ian Lavery’s withdrawal in her favour. Perceived to be the continuity Corbyn candidate, would she embrace the tag or seek wider appeal?

Long Bailey’s pitch is that the message was not wrong and the messenger was not wrong

In announcing her candidacy, Mrs Long Bailey could not have been more emphatic. She is Corbyn without the beard. Her decision to set out her stall in the incorruptibly socialist Tribune magazine and to tell ITV that she gave Corbyn “ten out of ten” for leadership is admirably clear. She is not going to join the lengthening queue of Labour politicians who last month told us to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister but this month tell us he was a disaster.

Such loyalty in poor weather as well as sunshine is not without its appeal. But it is not just personal, it is political. “I don’t just agree with the policies, I’ve spent the last four years writing them” Long Bailey states, adding “It is true that one reason we lost the election was that Labour’s campaign lacked a coherent narrative. But this was a failure of campaign strategy, not of our socialist programme.” The message was not wrong. The messenger was not wrong. The error was merely the confusion of too many messages.

Long Bailey’s pitch in Tribune makes repeated reference to her being “a proud socialist” who is determined “to see democratic socialism in our lifetime.” She has no time for “triangulation and Tory-lite policies.” Opponents are lumped together as the “far right” – a designation that appears to include everyone from the moribund BNP to “Johnson’s hateful agenda.” She will “resist the Tories every step of the way – in parliament, on the streets, and in our workplaces.” What sort of action she intends to enact on “the streets” we do not learn, but she does promise “you’re as likely to see me on a picket line as you are at the dispatch box.”

Whilst supposed metropolitan liberal, Sir Keir Starmer, is emphasising his left wing credentials and ordinary background in order to appeal beyond his core support, Long Bailey is as good as her word when she promises us no “triangulation.” She and her strategists must be confident that recent experience has, and will, effect no change in the composition and attitude of Labour leadership voters.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover