Labour’s membership surge points to victory for Starmer

Yesterday, Rebecca Long-Bailey joined Lisa Nandy and Sir Keir Starmer on the Labour leadership ballot, leaving Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, as the only candidate who has yet to receive sufficient support from constituency Labour parties and affiliate groups. 

However, what is more interesting is the recent surge in Labour membership. The BBC’s Newsnight programme found that the average rise in membership, per constituency association, was by 25%. In Vauxhall, Manchester Withington and Walthamstow, membership has increased by between 700 to 800. 

In June of 2019, it was reported that Labour’s membership had fallen from 564,000 to just 485,000. But the recent hike has placed party’s support at a new record, of 576,000, with many former members rejoining.

Unlike in 2015, when the new members fell behind Jeremy Corbyn, these members appear to be siding with the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, in spite of Momentum’s endorsement of Rebecca Long-Bailey. 

Momentum has also been accused of smearing Lisa Nandy during this leadership campaign by sharing a video in which they implied that, the member of parliament for Wigan, failed to vote against welfare cuts. Instead, she was on maternity leave. 

Long-Bailey has so far failed to successfully stem the support for Starmer. In YouGov polling, the Shadow Business Secretary is falling far behind Starmer in second place, and the anecdotal evidence from within Labour associations is that new members are increasingly supportive of Starmer. 

With little over two weeks until constituency Labour party and affiliate nominations close, Emily Thornberry’s campaign is struggling to obtain support. Of the 647 local associations Thornberry has just six backers. She will need 27 more in order to join the trio already on the ballot. 

An issue facing Thornberry is that she will fail to connect with the Leave voters who backed Boris Johnson last December. As an outspoken supporter of the European Union, who is accused of calling Brexiteers ‘stupid’ it would appear all but impossible for her to pose a serious challenge to Johnson. 

Even her support in the leadership race comes from the 48% with a notable endorsement from Dawn Butler. The MP for Brent Central, who is running in Labour’s deputy leadership race, told a party meeting in Westminster that: ‘if you don’t hate Brexit, even if you voted for it there is something wrong with you.’

Thornberry’s six local association supporters all voted to Remain and therefore it seems unlikely that she can reach beyond the Labour Party’s base that was unable to win the election last December. 

A similar criticism has been made of Sir Keir Starmer. The former head of the Crown Prosecution Service was instrumental in promoting Labour’s disastrous policy on the European Union and will potentially fail to win back these voters. His record as an ardent Remainer will undoubtedly have influenced Labour Movement for Europe in their decision to support the MP for Holborn and St Pancras.

Nevertheless, he is clearly the frontrunner of this leadership race. As of today, he has the support of 81 local parties, almost double the support for Long-Bailey. Among his backers he also has been endorsed in Leave voting parts of the country, including: Harlow, Hartlepool and Hornchurch and Upminster. 

Long-Bailey may have only received sufficient support to progress to the membership ballot yesterday, however, she has since surpassed Lisa Nandy in support. The member of parliament for Salford and Eccles has 43 constituencies behind her, as well as four affiliate groups. 

This leaves Lisa Nandy, who is potentially the biggest threat to Boris Johnson in the Brexit heartlands, after Channel 4 gathered ex-Labour voters who backed Boris. The focus group showed that while the participants were unlikely to switch back to Labour for any of the other four, Nandy’s tenacity and policies could bring them back around.

Unlike her rivals, Nandy has gathered disproportionate support among CLPs in leaving voting seats. Of the 18 currently supporting her only four voted in favour of staying inside the European Union. 

Labour are aware that they need to win back leave voters. Their leaked internal report as to why Boris Johnson returned the largest Conservative majority since 1987 and as to why Labour had their worst performance since 1935, pointed to Brexit as one of the two major issues.

Nonetheless, given Labour’s current composition in membership and a rather uneventful election campaign, it is highly unlikely that Nandy or Long-Bailey will be able to overturn Starmer’s unassailable lead.

By J Walters

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