Conrad Landin

A few weeks ago, it seemed impossible that a socialist would be in the running for the Labour leadership. The former miners’ leader Ian Lavery had ruled himself out and supported Andy Burnham; Lisa Nandy had resisted attempts to ‘draft’ her into the race. The debate was firmly anchored to the right, with Ed Miliband under attack for being ‘anti-business’ and focusing on the disenfranchised.

At a meeting of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, dismayed activists decided on one last push. Even if a leftwinger failed to get the required 35 nominations from MPs, they would put pressure on the other candidates. People were concerned that Burnham, having established himself as a committed NHS campaigner, was taking the left vote for granted. Jon Trickett, the shadow minister without portfolio, couldn’t be persuaded to step forward; Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign emerged from subsequent pressure to find someone else.

Seconds before the midday deadline on Monday, a late flurry of signatures saw Corbyn reach the threshold of 35. Jo Coburn on the BBC’s Daily Politics described them as ‘pity nominations’; there were reports that other candidates might 'lend' Corbyn some of their backers. But MPs weren’t allowed to transfer their nominations once they’d handed in their forms, though several apparently tried.

By the time Corbyn declared, a number of leftwingers had already pledged their support for Burnham, who looked likely to get the backing of the unions. Corbyn had only nine initial endorsements. But activists in the ‘Red Labour’ Facebook groups organised a social media campaign. There were 10,000 ‘likes’ for the official ‘Jeremy Corbyn for Leader’ Facebook page in 24 hours. It’s now on 23,000; Andy Burnham has 4500.

Lists of MPs who had yet to nominate were posted, and voters were encouraged to contact their constituency reps. When Mary Creagh dropped out of the race on Friday, her supporters were allowed to renominate. The next day they were the targets of a ‘Twitterstorm’ (#Jeremy4Leader) organised by Red Labour.

Centrist MPs such as Chi Onwurah, Clive Efford and Sarah Champion gave positive responses. Others weren’t so happy: the new Bermondsey MP, Neil Coyle, said messages were coming from Green supporters; Jonathan Reynolds said that the new process for electing the leader was about ensuring MPs’ approval, not ‘broadening the debate’.

He’s right. When Ed Miliband moved from an electoral college, itself a step forward from only MPs voting (pushed in the early 1980s by the late Vladimir Derer, the founder of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), to a ‘one member, one vote’ system, he raised the threshold for nominations as a sop to MPs who lost their block votes. But even some MPs are unhappy with the system. When David Lammy announced he was nominating Corbyn, he tweeted: ‘The next Labour leader should be chosen by members and supporters, not MPs.’

Now Corbyn has pulled through, his supporters must convince punters he is a credible leader, not a token anti-austerity voice. It’s unlikely he will win; in a preferential voting system, a polarising figure is unlikely to gain transfer votes. Still, the new system gives him a better chance than any previous left-wing contender. All votes count the same, including those of 'registered supporters' who can sign up for £3; plenty of people from the non-Labour activist left will do this now they can vote for Corbyn.

A straw poll on the Mirror website puts him miles ahead at 57 per cent, and the grassroots site LabourList puts him on 47 per cent. Neither is a scientific sample, and they were probably influenced by social media excitement, but the LabourList surveys are a good barometer of rank and file feeling.

When Ed Miliband beat his brother in 2010, the Times columnist Danny Finkelstein said it was ‘Vladimir Derer’s revenge’ – the first time a leader had won without the backing of MPs. A strong showing for Corbyn this time round could – unwittingly – be Miliband’s.


  • 18 June 2015 at 6:32am
    cufflink says:
    Jeremy8ntaLeader, and what's more in PR terms the name Jeremy by its unfortunate associations can therefore be deemed ignoratio elenchi for Islington is not Westminster and the whole point is to elect a unifying leader. Matters of policy must wait until a special Conference. I suggest the Party books the Methodist Hall and learns to pray again.

  • 18 June 2015 at 4:15pm
    lirrumnal says:
    Unfortunately, the first actual opinion poll, by Ipsos-MORI, puts Corbyn last:

    • 19 June 2015 at 11:20pm
      Conrad Landin says: @ lirrumnal
      But this isn't adequate polling either - this is a poll of Labour supporters and the general public. The actual electorate for the leadership will be Labour members, members of affiliated unions who have opted in, and members of the public who have opted in. The latter two groups will be far too self-selecting for the Mori samples to suffice. Not that the two I mentioned suffice either.

  • 19 June 2015 at 3:09pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    If any of the other candidates showed the quality that might win the next general election for us, I might have voted for one of them, despite their tepid Blairism. As it is, this time I'll be voting according to my conscience and my principles. Besides, we don't know what the wider political landscape will look like in 5 years' time. The Tories might well have buggered things up (Europe, the Union, human rights, cuts, even getting the deficit down); and anti-austerity is, I suspect, a rising sub-current. Look at Scotland.

  • 14 July 2015 at 5:18pm
    Gibbon says:
    Nonsense. The SNPs anti-austerity rhetoric is just that - pure spin. When they analysed their election manifesto, the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that - by the end of the Parliament at least - Labour's plans would be far more expansionary than the SNPs. And never forget that the real Tories - let alone the so called red variety - spend more than the SNP per head on schools and hospitals. In fact, the SNPs 'progressive' public spending only passes the Tories when you account for the tuition fee give-away which, while admirable in some respects, is hardly the most effective investment when it comes to helping the poorest.

    In reality, the SNP are not an anti-austerity party but offer a more mainstream social democratic approach to managing the public finances. And good for them too! We are not Greece. We are not Spain. This is not 2011 when the economy was tanking and in need of counter-cyclical investment. There are issues of distribution of course - but we are nevertheless growing at a healthy rate with a budget deficit of 5%. Corbyn - and anyone who is generally anti-state retrenchment - should spell out which taxes they would rise. Because there is no classically left-wing i.e. Keynesian argument against retrenchment. By all means let's have a debate about fairness. Let's have a debate about distribution. Let's have a debate about the state. But the economic argument against austerity, in the UK context, is no longer there.

    Yet of course anti-austerity politics have nothing to do with the economy. It is an emotional, irrational, deliberately counter-intuitive and populist campaign: a rebellion against technocracy, elites and being told this is the only way forward. It is not meant to be public policy, it is meant to be a strategy to organise popular sentiment against technocracy. And as such it is highly effective. Not as effective as red in tooth and claw nationalism of course, as the continent shows. But nevertheless effective. If you like the SNP you combine the two (even if only in rhetoric) then you really are laughing all the way to the ballot box.

    England has never worn populism mind you - and not just because of electoral system unfairness. Whilst Labour's 80% ABC1 membership - and the other non-Labour activists - have their fun, the Tories are looking decidedly hegemonic. Again. And this time we don't even get to listen to the Smiths.

  • 27 July 2015 at 12:31pm
    streetsj says:
    No idea what Facebook "likes" really represent but I see that JC is up to 46,000 while AB is still at 4,700.

    If JC is elected perhaps he could change the name of the party to Old Labour.

    We really need to change the electoral system first but I think it would be a step forward to have smaller, more focussed parties than "broad coalitions"

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