LONDON (Labour Buzz) - Barely had the titles rolled on last night’s Newsnight debate, than Twitter declared its winner. #nandysnight was trending and her supporters were excited as another polished performance gave the one time outsider another big boost.
Elsewhere, it was a night when all four leadership contenders sang, for the most part, from the same hymn sheet as they promised to keep everything which was good about the manifesto and make a stronger case to the people. Here’s how each of them faired.
Throughout the campaign so far, Starmer has played a classic front runner’s game: play a straight bat and try to say as little as possible. However, he has still felt the need to appeal to Labour’s left with a series of policy pledges on nationalisation, tuition fees, taxes and a promise not to enter into illegal wars.
The Iraq war, he said, had been illegal and any future war would have to meet three tests: is it legal under international law, are its aims achievable and does it have parliamentary consent?
His most difficult topic was Europe. As the architect of Labour’s much maligned Brexit policy, he’s open to attack from all sides. He skilfully balanced the tightrope of agreeing the debate on EU membership was over while still arguing for a close future relationship which would include the ability to live and move freely around the continent.
He had enjoyed the benefits of working and studying abroad, he said, and he wants his children to have the same opportunity.
Rebecca Long Bailey
The woman most likely to upset the Starmer coronation was on great form once again. Faced with a moderator determined to label her as Corbyn’s candidate, she defended the manifesto while selling it in an entirely different way.
This means trying to mention the word ‘aspiration’ in just about every sentence. It’s a positive and ambitious vision of socialism which has helped propel Bernie Sanders to front runner status in the Democratic Primary.
“We had transformative policies, but we didn’t have a message,” she said. “We didn’t talk about raising their aspirations.”
Aspiration was there again as she talked about winning the argument on tax.
“Tax helps us realise our aspirations and we should never be afraid of making the case for a fair taxation system.”
On Brexit she said people felt they were ‘playing a parliamentary game’.
With a new Lord Ashcroft poll suggesting disaffected Labour voters feel they lost touch with their traditional voters, Lisa Nandy positioned herself as the best placed person to ‘bring Labour home’.
“People are smarter than we think,” she said arguing that Labour lost the trust of voters because it couldn’t say how it would pay for promises such as nationalisation or scrapping tuition fees, although many on Twitter argued that the manifesto had pretty clear costings for both within the grey book.
However, she also defended the party on key issues such as immigration, pointing out that it was the Conservatives who repeatedly made pledges they were not willing to meet.
“Tory Governments have set targets to reduce immigration, but have done nothing because we are a net beneficiary of immigration,” she explained
On poverty she highlighted the hidden costs being poor brings including higher costs for credit, charges at ATM machines and higher insurance premiums. It contributed to an image of a politician who can reach outside the Westminster bubble and understands what life is really like for voters.
The media loves an argument which is why Thornberry stole the headlines for the BBC. Desperate for a ‘zinger’ they latched onto a comment she made about Rebecca Long Bailey, as she claimed not to remember Bailey speaking out against antisemitism.
She also criticised Labour for giving Boris Johnson the election he wanted on his terms, apparently forgetting that it was also the Lib Dems who threw their weight behind the bill.
For her, this debate was all about surviving. She is still the only candidate who has yet to make it through to the final round and, even if she does, she’s running a distant fourth in the polls.
A unified voice
The biggest takeaway, though, was how much the candidates agreed. On fighting antisemitism, trans rights, tax and immigration, they all had a similar message: While Labour lost the election, it didn’t mean they should abandon their values. Instead they should do a better job of selling them. This leadership election, then, will be all about which candidates members trust to deliver the best pitch.
One notable absentee, though, was climate change. This was in the top three issues for voters during the general election and Rebecca Long Bailey in particular was keen to talk about her Green New Deal. Unfortunately for her the presenter didn’t seem interested enough to ask the question.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)