The Definitive Who's Who of the Labour Leadership Race

A definitive guide to exactly who's running to be leader of the opposition.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna and Simon Childs
20 January 2020, 9:30am

Collage by Marta Parszeniew. All MP images via Parliament's official portrait gallery (CC BY 3.0)

If you thought British politics couldn’t get any worse, think again. Yes, it’s Labour leadership election time.

This is, of course, a sombre period of reflection, which means that until March we’ll watch as key figures from the party trash talk each other, brief against each other, come up with silly gimmicks and sound bite friendly policies, all the while attempting to present some kind of vision of why they should become The Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition beyond their own careerism.

So far the race has seen all the candidates talk about their humble and distinctly Labour-ish upbringings, and not all that much that’s illuminating about the future of the party. But anyway here are your runners and riders, one of whom will be trying to sock it the Tories after they wreak a mere five years more havoc on the country.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (CC BY 3.0)


Who is she?
The Corbyn continuity candidate.

What’s her pitch?
Favoured by the left of the party, Long-Bailey is promising to build on the socialist agenda of the party. Having been picked as Momentum’s candidate, and the shadow business secretary of the last cabinet, it’s clear that Long-Bailey stands politically quite close to Corbyn. She kicked off her campaign with an essay in Tribune, a Corbyn stanning magazine – rather than a comment piece for the bourgeois MSM – to ram the point home. She calls herself a proud socialist, who won’t revert to the Tory-lite Labour policies of the past.

Policies, if any?
Abolish the House of Lords.

Any skeletons in her closet?
In 2014, she inaccurately claimed on leaflets that she had been working as a solicitor with the NHS in Manchester for 10 years, while her 2015 election leaflets also wrongly stated, "I studied law and became a solicitor for the NHS to help defend our health service.” She actually began her legal career in landlord and tenant law.

Best viral moment
When she got called an alien by apparently still-employed Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson.

Keir Starmer (CC BY 3.0)


Who is he?
The smart lawyer tasked with trying and sell Labour’s indecisive and ultimately disastrous Brexit policy before the last election.

What’s his pitch?
Starmer seems to have spent the first part of the leadership race trying to appeal to Labour’s left-wing base, while also allegedly hiring an advisor from the right of the party and winning the support of Progress, a Blairite pressure group, and Labour First, a grouping of the old Labour-right. He doesn’t want to “oversteer” the party too hard away from Corbynism and says he thinks the free market has failed. He has said Labour shouldn’t trash the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn or the government of Tony Blair, so I guess he’s trying to be all things to all people. If that could be boiled down to a vision it might be something like: What if Corbyn, but he could string a sentence together and your Remainiac uncle who voted Lib Dem didn’t recoil at him?

Policies, if any?
“He is decent. He is a moral leftwinger,” one supporter told the Observer, adding, “He has no fixed ideas on policy.”

Any skeletons in his closet?
His own puff-video focuses on his early career as a totally righteous human rights lawyer standing up for loads of worthy political causes. It’s a very effective piece of political messaging, good enough to make you think “wow, what a good guy” for a full five minutes after watching it. Only when the glow has rubbed off do you start having thoughts like, It hardly mentioned his later career as the Director of Public Prosecutions for which he was awarded a knighthood, I wonder why?

Best viral moment
Refusing to rank Jeremy Corbyn out of ten by claiming that this would “trivialise” his leadership – a masterclass in not answering a question and making yourself look good in doing so.

Jess Phillips (CC BY 3.0)


Who is she?
Philips is the “alternative” candidate, who has consistently criticised Corbyn and has located herself more towards the centre of the party.

What’s her pitch?
Basically: Corbyn sucked, so pick me. It’s hard exactly to work out what Philips stands for as someone who described herself as a socialist candidate but didn’t back the first socialist leader in almost 40 years. She’s pro-EU, has spoken out about climate change, and has consistently been vocal about her desire to be Labour leader.

Policies, if any?
Philips has offered free universal childcare from the age of nine months.

Any skeletons in her closet?
Although Philips says she wants to “speak truth to power”, she has supported the “demands” of Women First a group accused of transphobia (which the group denies). She later told PinkNews that she regretted the tweet in hindsight.

Phillips has also been scrutinised for her relationship with people of colour inside and outside of the party. She claimed that she told Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, something that Abbott later denied. And in an interview with the Sunday Times she said, “Well, sorry, the British Pakistani-Bangladeshi community, certainly where I am, has issues about women's roles in a family, in society.” Indeed, she is the only MP to not have a single nomination from a BAME MP during the first round of the leadership contest.

Best viral moment:
That would probably be during the election campaign. The Tories’ official Twitter account took an old video of Phillips trying to sell her book on ITV's GMB, discussing how parties can find it difficult to deliver on promises. They reposted it on the day of Labour’s manifesto launch and implied that the comments were new. The left were outraged at Philips for seeming to undermine the party, then at the Tories for using fake news, and then everyone was confused at what to be angry about.

Lisa Nandy (CC BY 3.0)


Who is she?
That “brave, not the easy” candidate.

What’s her pitch?
Nandy, like Philips, is a soft-left candidate, though not nearly as well known. Nandy is from Manchester and is the first woman and mixed race candidate to hold the position as Wigan MP. She believes the party made a mistake on its Brexit position and thinks the loss of the Northern working-class voters needs to be fixed – something reflected in her backing from the National Union of Mineworkers. Likes to talk about towns.

Policies, if any?
Probably something to do with towns.

Any skeletons in her closet?
Not really well known enough to create much drama.

Best viral moment
Awkwardly trying to endear herself to Labour members by filming promotional videos next to pints.

Emily Thornberry (CC BY 3.0)


Who is she?
The shadow foreign minister under Jeremy Corbyn.

What’s her pitch?
Emily Thornberry is quite likeable as a political performer – she’s got a way with sassy put downs to stupid questions on Newsnight and decent barbs when she’s at the despatch box. But there’s zero hype about her leadership bid so far, after she scraped through onto the shortlist. She has a good back story about how she joined the party at 17, because a Labour councillor saved her and her mothers’ bacon after her dad left them high and dry, but that’s about all I can say about her campaign so far.

Policies, if any?
"We need a leader who is not afraid to take decisions and lead from the front,” she says. Compelling.

Any skeletons in her closet?
There was that time she tweeted “image from #Rochester” with a picture of a house adorned with St George’s cross flags and with a white van outside it. Bet the Tories and right-wing press won't let her live that down.

Best viral moment
Threatening to sue former MP Caroline Flint for “making up shit about her” in the wake of the election.

@RubyJLL / @SimonChilds13