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The race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn is exacerbating divisions in the U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party, as former members of Parliament who lost seats this month demanded an “unflinching” review into why the leader’s message had proved such a turnoff among voters.
“We need to be honest about why our outgoing leadership’s reflexive anti-Western world view was so unpopular, and address the reasons for that unpopularity,” Labour politicians including Mary Creagh, Emma Reynolds and Anna Turley — all from former Labour strongholds that voted Conservative in the election this month — wrote in a letter to the Observer newspaper on Sunday. “Fundamental change at the top of our party is required.”
Read more: Life After Corbyn? The Politicians Vying to Become Labour Leader
Though the formal process to pick a new leader isn’t expected to begin until January, with an election likely in March, the jostling for support is well under way. The current frontrunner, Rebecca Long Bailey, is widely viewed as the current leadership’s preferred choice having stood in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in June. She also ticks many party members’ boxes as a young and media-savvy woman from a northern constituency.
Corbyn’s allies are divided over whether Long Bailey, the shadow business secretary, has the broad appeal needed to win over the Labour membership, according to a report in the Sunday Times. The newspaper also said Ian Lavery, the party’s pro-Brexit chairman, is considering running for the top job himself, which could split the Corbyn vote and boost the prospects of Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, who is significantly more pro-European than Corbyn’s team.
Starmer has so far said only that he is “seriously considering” running for the leadership, though he has also set out his stall as a middle-ground candidate between the centrist leaning of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has urged a complete overhaul of the party, and the socialist views of Corbyn. Starmer has also warned the party not to “oversteer” as a result of the election defeat, arguing that Labour should “build on” Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and radical agenda.
Only Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, and Corbyn loyalist Clive Lewis have officially declared they are candidates, though neither is regarded as a frontrunner. Another potential candidate is 38-year-old Jess Phillips, a strong critic of Corbyn despite sharing many of his left-leaning views. Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh wrote in the Sunday Times that Phillips has “got what it takes. She connects with people like no other.”
The question for all the candidates will be how closely to stick to Corbyn’s manifesto pledges, which included nationalization of key utilities and the provision of free broadband to all U.K. households. How to reshape the party’s response to allegations of antisemitism that consistently undermined the party under Corbyn’s leadership will also feature prominently.
“The focus on nationalization and uncontrolled spending commitments meant people simply didn’t believe us,” Creagh and the other former Labour MPs said in their letter. “The cronyism at the top of our party and repeated unwillingness to stand up to the stain of antisemitism was constantly relayed back to us on the doorstep, shaming the traditional values of our once great anti-racist party.”
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