As promised, it’s time for a look at the contest to become next leader of the Labour party: the process, the candidates, and what’s at stake in terms of the future of the party.
The potential leadership candidates each had to gather the support of 35 Labour MPs in order to get listed on the ballot paper. At this early stage of the process, Chuka Umunna put his hat into the ring and then pulled it back out again, feeling uncomfortable with the increased levels of media pressure and realising the loss of privacy would only worsen over time. Mary Creagh withdrew her candidacy a week before the deadline, with media reports suggesting she was only likely to win the support of 10 MPs.
I know very little about Mary Creagh, but thought it was a shame that Chuka Umunna dropped out, as he is a very accomplished speaker and it would have been a good chance to see how much substance lies beneath the style. Four candidates successfully reached the 35 MP benchmark and will be on the ballot: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, has taken over as acting leader and will step down once the new leader is chosen. The contest is run under the Alternative Vote system (AV) and each Labour party member, affiliated supporter and registered supporter will be eligible to vote.
Under the AV system, candidates are ranked in order of preference by writing 1, 2, 3, etc. in the boxes to indicate your first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. If a candidate gains over 50% of the first preference votes, they are immediately elected. If all candidates have fallen short of the 50% benchmark, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is eliminated. Those votes are redistributed to the second preference on each ballot paper. This process continues until one of the candidates attains 50% of the votes.
The ballot papers will be sent out in mid-August and voting will close on 10th September, with the new leader being announced at a special conference on Saturday 12th September. In other words, it’s a lengthy process!
The four candidates
BBC Newsnight held the first televised leadership debate on 17th June. So who are the candidates?
Yvette Cooper has been an MP since 1997 and had the backing of 59 Labour MPs to get her name on the ballot paper. She served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet and is currently the shadow Home Secretary. He husband, Ed Balls, was shadow Chancellor until he lost his seat as a Labour MP in the 2015 general election. She believes her experience is an asset and Labour needs to focus on growing as a party rather than left/right politics, with positive campaigning.
Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP since 1983. He is a backbencher and only just crossed the line for nominations, with the support of 36 Labour MPs. He’s a socialist campaigner, very much on the left wing of the party, and opposed the Iraq war. He believes the Labour party has lost its way since 1997 and needs to change direction back the other way, focusing on work and public services.
Liz Kendall has only been an MP since 2010 but secured the backing of 41 Labour MPs for her candidacy. She is currently the shadow Health Minister. She believes the party needs to change with the times and would move Labour on from its position in the 2015 general election. She backs businesses, wealth creation and continuing to reduce the deficit, saying equality is only achieved through a strong economy.
Andy Burnham has been an MP since 2001 and had the backing of 68 Labour MPs to get his name on the ballot paper. He served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet and is currently the shadow Health Secretary. He believes Labour needs to focus on social mobility and helping everyone get on in life.
The future of the party
Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership you could expect a focus on jobs and social housing, celebration of immigration and increase in borrowing to fund public sector spending. Under Liz Kendall’s leadership you could expect further cuts to reduce the deficit, clamping down on immigration by restricting benefits, and increase in investment in businesses. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper both seem to be continuity candidates and it isn’t yet clear to me whether either would take the party in a different direction to where it is currently.
The main question facing Labour voters is: what is the party for? It was a question that went unasked in the Newsnight programme, but it’s really the only one that makes sense when it comes to choosing the next leader.