Keir Starmer has rejected the suggestion Labour’s next leader has to come from the north of England, as a poll suggested he has extended his lead over chief rival Rebecca Long-Bailey in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.
The shadow Brexit secretary, who is the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in London, told the first public hustings of the campaign on Saturday that “nobody” in constituencies that voted Leave had ever raised where he lived as an issue.
“If you are decent enough to come and have a conversation people are decent enough to give you a hearing in my view,” he said. “Not one person has said ‘you’re a Londoner’.”
Starmer said people care about “what have you got to say, not where are you are from”.
But Long-Bailey, the favourite of the current leadership, told the event in Liverpool in front of 500 Labour members that the next leader should come from the north.
“I am biased,” the MP for Salford and Eccles in Manchester said. “I’d say yes.”
“It’s about your principles, but it certainly helps. And it certainly helps having grown-up and lived in an area that has been affected and become quite angry about the centralisation of politics and financial power in London and the south east,” she said.
“We’ve got to have someone that understands that. That can tell them quite clearly, we will shift power.”
Labour lost seats across its northern heartlands at the election - the so called red wall - leading some in the party to demand the next leader must come from the region.
The second YouGov poll of the contest has suggested Starmer will beat Long-Bailey 63% to 37% once the other candidates are knocked out of the race.
But there is a long way to go in the contest and the winner will not be declared until April 4.
And a separate poll conducted by Survation last week suggested Long-Bailey would win 42% of first preference votes to Starmer’s 37%.
The rules of the event also prohibited the candidates from interrupting each other. And there was no obvious knock-out blow.
Long-Bailey told the audience divided parties do not win elections. Calling for everyone to “reunify and rebuild”, she said: “We have to be honest that over the last four years we haven’t been united.”
Phillips, a prominent critic of Corbyn, said the “name calling within the party has been horrendous” and called for Labour to build a “broad team”.
Thornberry said Labour members should stop fighting each other and concentrate on fighting the Tories.
She also warned being leader of the Labour Party in opposition was “the worst job in the world” in part due to the media. “In the end we have to wade through an awful lot of shit,” she said.
Starmer agreed there had been “too much division”, adding: “We are unstoppable when we are united.”
During the hustings, Phillips also said the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism had meant it had lost the “moral high ground” to fight racism.
She added: “Jewish people were scared of Labour winning the election.
“That’s deeply serious. The Labour Party has now lost the credibility to handle its own complaints system. We have lost the moral high ground to fight racism in this country because of the way we have handled anti-Semitism.”