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The tough get going
As the rest of Westminster slides into the weekend, Labour’s leadership candidates will be getting ready for the start of a gruelling series of hustings events that have the potential to turn the contest on its head.
You only need to look at Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning victory in 2015 to show how Labour members pay attention to the debate, and change their minds accordingly.
And an endurance test like this may favour an insurgent.
Those involved in the outsiders’ leadership campaigns also point out that while recent polls have Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey ahead, there are a lot of don’t knows and a lot of people suggesting their current preference isn’t set in stone.
So on to Liverpool on Saturday for the first of 12 leadership hustings.
Long-Bailey’s opponents are already piling the pressure on, describing it as a home game for the shadow business secretary, who grew up in Manchester and nearby Ellesmere Port. Outsiders are also annoyed that the event will fit only a few hundred members in a city with a 20,000-strong party membership, in a decision seen as favouring Momentum’s candidate.
Long-Bailey has much to do, with some in the left said to be worried at the wobbly start to her campaign. For her, this event will be all about stabilising and reassuring her natural supporters. Like Boris Johnson united Leavers in the general election, to win she does not need new supporters but simply to unite the left.
As the early frontrunner, Starmer will be looking to capitalise on his early momentum by further establishing his credibility on the left. His focus will be on tone and feel as he tries to build a rapport with members who may find him a bit cold and lacking charisma. Some in the party are also crying out for more levity, self deprecation and simply fun from the candidates, stung by Rachel Sylvester’s excellent Times columnearlier this week, when she urged the candidates to “lighten up”. Some jokes from Starmer could go a long way.
He also appears worried about appearing as the only man on stage at a time when many in Labour feel it is time for a female leader. He spent Friday trying to protect this Achilles heel by pressing Long-Bailey’s sore on abortion.
For Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry, the hustings can only provide an opportunity.
Both Nandy and Phillips’ teams believe the more people see of their candidates, the more they like them. But while Nandy has already won plaudits for her PLP hustings victory and Andrew Neil interview, many are wondering how Phillips’ combative style will play with what is likely to be a hostile Corbynite crowd.
Thornberry, while a good debater who has lit up constituency fundraisers, appears to lack any momentum. Her path to victory is difficult to see, and some suggest she may drop out of the contest soon as she struggles to get the support of 33 CLPs or three affiliates, including two trade unions.
Whatever happens on Saturday, there is an awful long way to go before the April 4 result.
And the outsider candidates believe that while Starmer and Long-Bailey’s mission right now is simply not to lose, it can be hard to maintain frontrunner status for such a long campaign.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock explains why he’s backing Lisa Nandy and what Labour need to do while out in the political cold.
Kinnock and the HuffPost UK team also ponder the question “what is Johnson-ism?” in a week where the statist rescue of Flybe has raised eyebrows.
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Quote Of The Day
“I’ve been to Amsterdam.”
Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey on whether she has taken drugs (via JOE).
Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry prepared to formally launch their Labour leadership campaigns on Friday night. Long-Bailey will vow to “shake up” the way government works, ending the “gentlemen’s club of politics”. Thornberry meanwhile went to her hometown of Guildford to warn Labour faces “a long, tough road back to power”.
Labour leadership candidate Jess Phillipssat down with HuffPost UK to talk about the need for a female leader, the party’s future, anti-Semitism, Europe – and Meghan Markle.
The row over whether Big Ben should bong Britain out of the EU on Brexit day rumbled on, as Downing Street sought to distance itself from the campaign for the bell to toll. Nigel Farage accused Boris Johnson of misleading the public when he suggested people could “bung a bob” to support the campaign.
A free trade agreement will be “very difficult” to secure if Britain does not sign up to honouring Brussels’ rules on standards, according to Guy Verhofstadt.
The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said the scope of a trade deal during the upcoming negotiations would depend on Boris Johnson’s “willingness to comply with a number of standards of the European Union”.
What I’m Reading
Dominic Cummings has ‘done’ Brexit. Now he plans to reinvent politics | Financial Times
Jess Phillips: ‘As Labour Leader, I Will Never Live In A Bunker. I Relish Rebellion’ | HuffPost UK