Corbyn, Henry VIII, and the Contenders to the Labour Throne

After the recent elections to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), the Party’s
ruling body, the left-wing has tightened it’s hold on power. New Statesman deputy Editor
Helen Lewis, described this as Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘Henry VIII problem’, having that power
but still no clear heir.

The field behind Corbyn is fragmented and fractured, with candidates from across
the party spectrum touted as potential leaders. The issue is clouded by the disconnect
between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the grass-roots members in the
Constituency Labour Party (CLP). The ‘McDonnell’ amendment to the Party constitution.

Lowering the number of nominations form the PLP from 15% to 10%, has secured a left-
wing presence on the ballot paper. Given this backdrop, who are the main runners and
riders to take the reigns when Corbyn steps down?

Emily Thornberry, the bookmakers favourite for the position, is the most obvious
candidate for the top job. The Shadow Foreign Secretary has a strong standing within the
party. Thornberry would have little difficulty gaining the requisite support from 10% of the
PLP. She has been cast as a unifying figure within the PLP. Both a familiar figure and
Corbyn supporter. Thornberry’s experience deputising for Corbyn at the dispatch box
during PMQs showcasing her ability as a parliamentarian and Shadow Minister. She also
has support from the left-wing of the Party, boasting the support of Len McClusky, leader of
Labours biggest backer, Unite the Union. The support from Unite is an indicator of the
views of the membership, having supported the winning candidate in the past three
Leadership elections. Coming out twice for Jeremy Corbyn and for Ed Milliband in 2010.

Another figure in the frame for the Labour Leadership is Keir Starmer. Although the
shadow Brexit Secretary was first elected to the Commons in only 2015, he was urged to
make a run for the leadership only weeks after assuming his seat. Ultimately this came to
nothing, citing a lack of political experience. Starmer, well presented and well spoken,
seems like a hangover from the New Labour era. Having loyally served in Jeremy
Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, however, he has a significant standing amongst the Labour
membership. Given that Starmer now has the experience he felt he lacked in 2015 it
seems unlikely that any prospective Leadership ballot would not feature his name.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary has also been muted as a
potential future leader. She has already gained a strong standing amongst the Party
membership for her straightforward authentic delivery, and her experience outside of
politics may chime with the Labour Party membership. She doesn’t, however, have the
experience at the top level of the Labour Party that Emily Thornberry boasts. Similarly,
Laura Pidcock, the MP for North West Durham and a fierce supporter of Jeremy Corbyn
should be considered. Her maiden speech in the house of Commons lit up social media
immediately endeared her to the Party membership. Both Rayner and Pidcock would
benefit from the ‘Mcdonnell’ amendment. Neither may have been able to secure support
form 15% of the PLP. With the entrance criteria significantly revised downwards, however,
it would not be a surprise to see their names on the ballot.

In the next Labour Leadership election the membership will play a bigger role than
they have for more than a generation. The old challenge of making it to the ballot has been
eroded by the gains that Momentum and Corbyn have made in the Party’s ruling body.
Unless Corbyn, like Henry VIII, finds himself an heir, the path to the leadership could be
the most interesting in recent history.

Article by Alexander Benson

Photograph – The Times

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