Labour’s National Executive Committee has set a short timetable for the leadership election. MPs and MEPs have one week to nominate candidates (7-13 January).
Constituency Labour Party [CLPs] and affiliates have one month (15 January-14 February). Voting will run a month and a bit (21 February-4 April).
New members can vote if they join by 20 January. There will be a registered supporters system, in addition to affiliate supporters (eg people registered through their unions).
To get on the ballot, candidates need 10% of Labour MPs and MEPs (22), and then either 5% of constituency parties (33) or 5% of affiliated organisations by conference voting strength, two of which must be unions.
Six leadership candidates have now announced themselves. The absence of open debate at the top levels of the Labour Party in recent years, other than on Brexit and antisemitism, creates unusual difficulties in judging their records, but some outlines are clear.
Keir Starmer, who seems to be emerging as the frontrunner, has a soft-right record (abstained on Tory Welfare Reform in 2015, backed moves to dump Corbyn in 2016), but is talking left for the contest.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is the Leader’s Office continuity candidate. Her new twist is to talk about “progressive patriotism”. She has been associated with Alex Halligan, a Stalinist of a more vituperative stripe than Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, as her back-office person for some time.
Emily Thornberry is similar to Starmer but soft-left rather than soft-right, and, so far, less successful.
Lisa Nandy was once a “rising star” of the soft left, then backed the moves to dump Corbyn in 2016 and voted for Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement at Second Reading. Her special pitch now is nationalism as a way to win back lost voters in small towns.
Jess Phillips is a right-winger with a record defined by self-promotion and militant hostility to the left.
Clive Lewis, founder of the left anti-Brexit group of MPs Love Socialism Hate Brexit, has a record superior to all the other candidates. However, his campaign has not put him to the left of other candidates, even on his own previous strong points like Brexit and free movement, party democracy, and antisemitism. Moreover, he has responded inadequately to allegations about sexism arising from an interview he gave to Huck magazine. He has not yet given convincing reasons to support him.
His supporters urge us to wait for him to develop his programme further, but it’s getting late for that now that the contest is underway and a crucial stage of it ends in only a few days’ time.
Socialists will use the election to argue and organise for a campaigning, democratic Labour Party, for socialist policies and politics, and for migrants’ rights, free movement and internationalism. As yet, sadly, we don’t have a candidate on whom to “hook” that argument.
Challenging the candidates
Solidarity proposes this text as a basis for discussion on the questions activists should raise during the leadership contest.
We want to make the leadership contest an opportunity to raise the level of political discussion on the left. We call on members and affiliates to press the candidates for clear commitments on continuing the party’s democratisation, above all making conference sovereign; on defending, developing and crucially campaigning for left-wing, pro-working class policies; and on standing up for free movement and migrants’ rights.
We reject moves to the right, however they are dressed up. What we’re looking for is not a leader who will hand down left-wing policies from above, but one who will help create a democratic party in which the membership decides the policy.
Labour has failed to convince people we are serious and reliable about our policies, because we didn’t debate and argue for those policies over months and years – rather than just days – and left them as a catalogue of good ideas instead of tying them together into a socialist message. Because we haven’t taken the opportunity since 2015 to begin to rebuild the labour movement and its support on the streets, in workplaces and communities; or used our support among young people to build active youth and student movements. And more immediately because we have came across as unclear and evasive on hot questions like Brexit and antisemitism.
A democratic, campaigning, working-class-based party
1. Maintain existing democratisation, including to conference (more motions, abolition of the “contemporary” rule) and disciplinary due process (the suspension of auto-exclusions should be made permanent).
2. Extend democracy. A sovereign conference which actually decides policy and direction. Governance by elected bodies and officers, not unelected officials. (The Leader’s Office, dominated by Stalinists, needs reorganising and restaffing.) Open selections for MPs.
3. A democratic Young Labour movement with its own constitution; central support for building a regularly-meeting YL group in every constituency. A democratic Labour Students movement.
4. The party should organise demonstrations and visible campaigning on issues like the NHS, housing and Universal Credit. Active support for workers’ struggles and building unions. Defeat Johnson’s new anti-strike law; demand repeal of all anti-union laws, in line with conference. A real campaign to reverse council cuts.
5. Make the union link a living force once again, particularly at local level.
A socialist party
6. Labour should argue for the goal of replacing capitalism with a new society based on democratic collective ownership — socialism. Radical policies should be steps on this road.
7. The climate crisis makes this even more necessary and urgent. Minimally, campaign for conference’s “Socialist Green New Deal” policy in full — including net-zero by 2030.
8. Labour should adopt TUC Congress 2019’s unanimous policy for democratic public ownership of banking and finance.
An internationalist, pro-liberation party
9. Brexit will likely happen, but there is no obligation for Labour to deny Remain would be better, facilitate the Tories’ plans, or fail to take advantage of their difficulties.
10. Unequivocally advocate defence and extension of free movement and migrants’ rights, in line with conference. “Build unions, not borders”. Advocate cross-border labour solidarity, and a united, democratic, socialist Europe.
11. A strong stance against all bigotry and oppression — including Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-gypsy, Roma and traveller racism, and transphobia. A strong stance for women’s liberation. Extend abortion rights.
12. To sort out the mess on antisemitism, we need a leadership which knows what it is talking about, and serious political education. This must include discussing antisemitic reactionary anticapitalism, and the implications of demonising Israel and “Zionists” and offhandedly dismissing complaints as right-wing or Israeli conspiracies — which, also, hurts rather than aids the Palestinians. Actively campaign for the party’s position of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.