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It looks like 2020 is going to be quite a year. Yes, there’s the looming threat of world war three in the middle east, but here in the UK something strange is happening to the Labour party: a National Executive Committee meeting took place, it didn’t take 10 hours and it ended with calm agreement.
So, on the day of Epiphany, has Labour had its own sudden moment of realisation? That disunity leads to defeat? Well, I’m told there was very little factionalism in the NEC meeting, although that may simply be because many of its members are so discombobulated by the scale of the 2019 election disaster that they haven’t yet worked out their next moves. Neither the left nor centre know if a shorter or longer contest benefits either of them, or whether a £25 membership fee will attract their kind of supporter.
It may also be that the YouGov polling of members (showing Keir Starmer has a healthy lead over Rebecca Long Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Clive Lewis) has thrown a spanner in the working calculation among some in Momentum that their own candidate would walk it. Far from being the ‘front runner’ many assumed, Long Bailey has been so quiet that it appears she is unprepared for the task ahead.
As it happens, I’ve been told she has some impressive radical policy people lined up for her team amid tight secrecy. She will formally declare tomorrow, but apparently wants to keep her powder dry for a big launch among members rather than using the Commons as her platform. Tomorrow night’s first hustings before fellow MPs and peers (in the PLP room no less) will means she has to set out her stall, yet with her nominations already in the bag, she can afford to pitch herself as ‘the members’ candidate’.
I remember back in 2015 being the only hack standing outside the PLP office in parliament as the clock struck midday for the deadline for MP nominations. I saw an elated Jeremy Corbyn hugging former cabinet minister Andrew Smith after he became the 35th crucial backer for his campaign. The scenario of MPs ‘lending’ their nominations to a leftwinger to allow a better debate (Margaret Beckett, Sadiq Khan, David Lammy) won’t be on the cards this time.
One of the most important backers that Long Bailey managed to secure today was Angela Rayner. But her own deputy leadership campaign speech was so impassioned, so well-crafted and so utterly authentic that it left many of us wondering why the heck she wasn’t going for the top job herself.
Rayner made her council estate roots a centrepiece of her launch, yet managed to range much wider with an appeal for fresh thinking, an end to factionalism (she pointed out that working class voters who were told to “f*ck off and join the Tories” did just that) and a sense of urgency that Labour must now “win or die”. One of the few stars of the party’s last election campaign, it’s pretty obvious to many that she is also better than Long Bailey or Starmer at speaking fluent human.
The great irony is that Rayner today rightly said she was sick of being told by others to stay in her lane. As a teenage single mum, “for too long I felt I wasn’t good enough”. Yet some of her admirers worry that her decision not to contest the leadership itself is an echo of that imposter syndrome. Has she bowed to Long Bailey, not just because her friend wants the top job but because her friend has the self-confidence of a graduate lawyer? More importantly, does Long Bailey really think she would make a better leader than her flat mate?
It’s early days of course, and no one can assume this contest is a cakewalk for any candidate. Labour will be hoping it has a better debate than the Tories had with Boris Johnson v Jeremy Hunt. But Johnson proved last summer that a dogged focus and broad personal appeal (especially to people not in your own party) can go a long, long way with the public. Whoever succeeds Jeremy Corbyn needs some of both. Realising that really would be an epiphany.
Quote Of The Day
“This Media Post will serve as a reminder that war powers reside in the Congress under the United States Constitution. And that you should read the War Powers Act. And that you’re not a dictator.”
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee reminds Donald Trump of its role
Monday Cheat Sheet
Labour’s ruling NEC set the timetable for the leadership and deputy leadership elections, with the ballot closing on April 2 and an announcement two days later.
Downing Street signalled its unease over Donald Trump’s suggestion that he could bomb culturally important sites in Iran. The PM talked to his Iraqi counterpart Abdul Mehdi by phone to urge restraint. After a meeting with key ministers, the message from No.10 was “de-escalation” and “diplomacy”.
Unite and GMB union reps for Labour party staff wrote to all declared leadership candidates to ask them to condemn any attempts at a major internal reorganisation while Corbyn remains in office. General secretary Jennie Formby is under fire for plans to axe key staff. Keir Starmer was the first to come out support the staff and their unions tonight.
Former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper revealed she would not be standing for the Labour leadership. In the Guardian, she set 7 tests for those who wanted to be Corbyn’s successor.
What I’m Reading
Why We Search For A Happy Ending - New Yorker
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