LONDON (Labour Buzz) - This week Rebecca Long Bailey joined Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer on the final ballot after securing the backing of the fire brigade’s union. With the full power of Momentum also swinging in behind her, she’s mounting a serious challenge.
RBL has been labelled the continuity Corbyn candidate, but that’s somewhat simplistic argument. While Corbyn had to beg his way onto the ballot in 2015, she had a relatively easy ride, attracting many MPs who had backed Andy Burnham as well as former Corbynites. Her appeal is much wider, but her ability to make journalists lose their minds appears to be just as strong.
Paul Mason dialled the debate back to 1642 when he claimed she’d be taking orders from the Vatican after it emerged, she supported equalising abortion rules for both disabled and healthy babies. Logging onto Twitter, she might have been surprised to find the term ‘papist’ trending and even more surprised to learn it was all about her. It was the kind of anti-Catholic bigotry which we thought had gone out of fashion with the Roundheads.
As with Corbyn, there is something about her which sends even the most reasonable and professional journalist into meltdown. One reason behind that could be that she’s arguably the most transformative of all the candidates.
At a time when many are trying to distance themselves from the Corbyn project, she’s remained remarkably true. She refused to join in the witch hunt, defended his record and correctly pointed out that the policies in the manifesto were right, even if the messaging was wrong.
Her call for open selections, meanwhile, is another much needed step to bring real democracy into the party. It would force sitting MPs to seek approval before each election and give members a much greater say over the people who represent them. A similar approach in the US led to the rise of Alexandra Ocasia Cortez and has reinvigorated the cause of the left.
More than any other candidate, she’s stated her commitment to Labour’s plans to nationalise key industries and has the strongest anti austerity credentials of any of the four remaining runners. It’s worth remembering that she is the only one of the remaining candidates who voted against Tory austerity cuts in 2015, although Lisa Nandy was on maternity leave at the time.
Most of all, she wrote Labour’s green new deal plans, which is remarkable for being the first time a political party’s issued an approach to climate change which didn’t have scientists or environmentalists banging their heads against their desk in anguish.
It’s a policy which addresses the biggest threat of our age, one which all but the most ignorant of deniers are finally waking up to. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change again stated before Davos, the world is in the last chance saloon facing catastrophic consequences unless it changes course. Scientists suggest the world is on course for global warming of 3°C by 2050 and 6°C by 2100, something which they warn could be incompatible with an organised global community.
In other words, unless something dramatic happens, we should all be watching Mad Max and taking notes. And you thought Brexit was a big deal…
At the last election, only the Labour party seemed to realise the extent of the crisis, but public opinion is catching up. For the first time ever, at the last election, surveys placed climate change among the top three issues. While Brexit dominated debate this time around, that’s unlikely to be the case in five years’ time.
The question of electability
The biggest charge against her is ‘electability’. The likes of the magnificently named Andrew Adonis insist that Labour cannot win with RBL at the helm. Taking to Twitter in the aftermath of the election he wrote: “If Rebecca Long-Bailey becomes leader of the Labour Party it will not be electable. Period.” Ironically, Baron Adonis of Camden Town was himself unable to win selection to replace Kate Hoey as the Labour MP candidate for Vauxhall at the last general election.
Unfortunately, electability is far from an exact science. As things stand, each of the remaining contenders are relatively unknown to the wider electorate. We won’t know how electable each of them are until they’ve well and truly got their feet under the table.
Each candidate will have their own struggles. Starmer, for all his many qualities, was at the centre of the biggest issue which turned voters away: Brexit.
The desire to move to the centre is strong and understandable, but it surrenders many of the key strengths of Labour’s existing position. Their policies are popular. On every issue: the economy, nationalisation, taxation and the environment, the tide is moving in their direction. The fortunes of the next leader will not depend on the policies he or she adopts, but how the party gets those policies across, and that is a whole different topic altogether.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)