POLITICS
05/01/2020 13:55 GMT | Updated 06/01/2020 08:33 GMT

Jess Phillips Hints At Bid To Rejoin EU As Would-Be Labour Leaders Pitch For Power

What candidates to replace Jeremy Corbyn have been saying about the Iran crisis, Brexit and Labour's 2019 manifesto.

The contest for the Labour leadership is beginning to take shape as candidates start to make their pitch to the party faithful. 

So far, the candidates to replace Jeremy Corbyn and become the next leader of the opposition include Labour MPs Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, and shadow frontbenchers Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. 

Everyone but Lewis gave an interview to broadcasters on Sunday as they set out their stall. 

Here is what they said on key issues which could decide the contest. 

Labour’s nationalisation agenda

Corbyn’s radical manifesto is said to be among the reasons for Labour’s worst election defeat since 1935. 

It included policies to nationalise rail, mail, utilities and offer free broadband with a part-nationalisation measure. 

Wigan MP Nandy suggested voters thought free broadband was not deliverable or necessary, adding: “People said to us, it’s all very well promising free broadband but could you just sort out the buses? And that was the more pressing issue in their lives.

“It’s not about whether you’re radical or not, it’s about whether you’re relevant.” 

She backed rail nationalisation, however, and said Labour’s plan for energy could be even more radical. 

Phillips, the campaigning MP for Birmingham Yardley, committed only to rail nationalisation and suggested she would row back on any plan to nationalise utilities. 

Pressed on mail, water and energy, she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “we have to make choices”.

“Of course we have to in the future look to how those services can better serve the public and nationalisation is one of those ways,” she said.

“While there are still homeless people literally sleeping outside my office both in London and in Birmingham we have to make the choices that people can trust that we will deliver.”

Taking a similar position to Phillips, shadow Brexit secretary Starmer, the current favourite in the race, backed rail nationalisation but refused to be drawn on the wider suite of policies. 

He said: “In some cases the nationalisation argument makes itself. In the case of rail, you don’t have to travel for very long to be persuaded of that argument.

“What I’m really concerned about is this: the manifesto we need to be discussing now is not the 2019 manifesto, it’s the 2024 manifesto.” 

Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, was less direct, saying the “dreadful” electoral result was partly because the manifesto “just wasn’t convincing because there was too much in it”.

“In the end, we can say until we are blue in the face that there is another way- and there is – but we won’t get the opportunity to serve if people don’t believe us,” she told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. 

Brexit 

Labour entered the 2019 election campaign backing a second referendum on Brexit but without taking any formal position on Leave or Remain. 

The party has a vastly pro-Remain membership but is licking its wound after a heavy defeat so the candidates’ Brexit positions could be a key factor. 

Phillips had the most eye-catching position, as she refused to rule out campaigning to rejoin the EU at some point in the future. 

“You would have to look at what is going on at the time,” she told Marr. “What our job is, for the next three years, is to hold Boris Johnson to account for all the promises.

“So if we are living in an absolute paradise of trade, and we’re totally safe in the world, and we’re not going to worry about having to constantly look to America for our safety and security, then maybe I’ll be proven wrong. But the reality is that if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the EU, then I will fight for that, regardless of how difficult that argument is to make.”

It puts a clear dividing line between Phillips and the frontrunner Starmer, who was one of the figures in the shadow cabinet for Remain in the run up to the election. 

The shadow Brexit secretary views the issue as closed. 

“We are going to leave the EU in the next few weeks; and it’s important for all of us, including myself, to realise that the argument for leave and remain goes with it. We are leaving. We will have left the EU,” he said.

“This election blew away the argument for a second referendum, rightly or wrongly, and we have to adjust to that situation.”

Thornberry, who is pro-Remain, has previously revealed she warned Corbyn about taking a neutral stance. 

She told Ridge she was pressing ahead with legal action against ex-Labour MP Caroline Flint who had claimed that Thornberry had suggested Brexit voters were “stupid”. 

People can slag me off, and they do, but so long as they do it on the basis of truth, I’ll take it on the chin,” she said. “But if they start making things up, I have to take legal action. I deeply regret that we’re going to need to do this, but if we have to do it we have to do it.”

Nandy has previously said that Labour needed to accept the Brexit vote. 

She said Labour has become a “paternalistic party”, was guilty of “patronising people” and should be focusing on issues which affect lives. 

Iran 

Arguably the biggest foreign policy issue facing the country today, however, is the Iran crisis after a US drone strike killed top military commander Qassem Soleimani. 

Starmer warned against backing the US on Middle East policy, which foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday was careful not to do

He said: “We cannot blindly follow the Americans into what could well turn out to be a war in the Middle East.”

Taking more broadly about support for military action, Starmer said he had three conditions: “I would pass legislation that said military action could be taken if: first, the lawful case for it was made, secondly, there was a viable objective and thirdly, you’ve got the consent of the Commons.”

Phillips said there must be a “moral case” for any military action, adding: “I marched against the Iraq war and in fact left the Labour Party over it. I would absolutely take action where there was a moral case and British lives were at risk.”

Shadow foreign secretary Thornberry made detailed arguments on this area, saying the world had taken a “major lurch towards war”. 

Of Donald Trump’s decision to target Soleimani, she said: “The president is reckless and hasn’t thought through what he’s doing.”

Turning to the Iranian nuclear deal, which Trump looks set to row back on, she said she had previously raised the issue with Johnson, adding: “I remember saying to Boris Johnson, I am really worried that the President is going to rip up the Iranian nuclear deal and he said to me ‘you should spend a bit less time reading the newspapers’.”

She said if the UK was “at risk of imminent attack” then military action was “of course” necessary. 

Speaking about Donald Trump’s conduct more generally, she said: “My experience of bullies is that you stand up to them.”

Nandy warned escalating tensions between Iran and the US represented a “dangerous moment” for Britain, adding she also saw Trump’s actions as “reckless”. 

She said Boris Johnson, who is currently on holiday in the Caribbean, should already have recalled parliament to set out a strategy. 

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is the current leadership’s favoured candidate, is widely expected to enter the race but is yet to declare.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee will meet on Monday to set the timetable for the contest, which is then expected to formally start on Tuesday.

The new leader is expected to be in place by the end of March.