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Who Can Lead The Left’s Fight Against Boris?

As Labour Party members head to the polls, Phoebe McDowell makes the case for frontrunner Keir Starmer, while Murray Clark cheerleads underdog Lisa Nandy


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By Phoebe Mcdowell

He hasn’t had an easy campaign. His mother-in-law passed away. His team was accused of a data breach, and there have been calls for him to reveal his big-bucks backers. But it’s OK, because it’s a universally acknowledged truth that Keir Starmer is drop dead bloody gorgeous. For a politician, anyway. British, anyhow. And so his campaign slogan “Another Future is Possible” promises one of pragmatic expedience, with inoffensive – no, good – hair and limited buffoonery.

He may have the the polished veneer of a Tory, but his heart is humanist, and the combination is irresistible. His oratory style is one of firmness and facts, honed probably while working on a desperate human rights case, pro bono. Its long been levelled that Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones fame was, in fact, modelled off Starmer, with his affable charm and ability to talk about simultaneously boring and serious things, with learned nonchalance.

Having lost four elections on the trot, and now estranged from its former heartland, Labour is in the doldrums. A leftward shift is the right one, Starmer says. The party needs remodelled, radical policies, not reheated ones. An expert frontbencher, who will enthuse the base, and skilfully shimmy between robust Corbynism and the more centrist Blairite wing of the party. Unity is his for the taking.

While the other two fall over themselves to flaunt their provincial roots, Keir need only remind us of his namesake – Keir Hardie – the founder of the Labour Party. Lisa Nandy might have flat vowels, Rebecca Long-Bailey too, but lest we forget that prior to 2010, the latter wasn’t even a member of the Labour Party, let alone a Trade Union.

He doesn’t answer questions he doesn’t want to, which quite frankly, is a revelation for blustering, blithering politicians who answer everything without answering anything at all. The retort? Simple: “I’m not going to answer that”. He demonstrated effortless camaraderie at the Channel 4 Leadership Debate, refusing to defer to petty infighting, instead affectionately referring at one stage, to Long-Bailey as Bec. (Gosh this appraisal is technical). Having also just announced that he’ll give both her and Lisa Nandy “top” jobs, this is surely the best confection of the new-fangled hard-lined soft-mush? Oh, and there’s no guarantee of a job for Jez.

In an episode of pin the tail on the donkey (where Brexit is the tail and Keir is the donkey) it’s prudent to reiterate his arch remainer status, the one that saw him repeatedly dig his heels at the dispatch box. Brexit will be over-ish, and with an 80 seat Tory majority in the House of Commons, further dissent can’t amount to much, which is good because I don’t think I could write a coherent sentence about that (see aforementioned donkey analogy for proof). But what would happen to his job? Without a will-we-won’t-we quagmire, there will be no job for Starmer, and that would be a total travesty for us. And Westminster. And Bridget Jones 4.




“All I want is a proper functioning bus network,” Lisa Nandy sighed, kicking off her underdog leadership campaign not in The Guardian, or on the BBC, but in The Wigan Post: the local news outlet of her beloved constituency.

You see, Nandy’s got a thing about towns. One quick Twitter search will unearth a trove of Very Good Content. In one video, she waxes lyrical about the importance of towns in an audience with famed leftie director, Danny Boyle. In another, the names of the many lovers of Lou Bega in Mambo Number Five are replaced with Nandy’s dour recall of great, great towns. We all need a little bit of Dudley in our lives. Sandwell too.

That’s because, in the worst Labour result since 1935, these places turned blue. Once ruby red fortresses in the heartlands soon drowned in Boris Johnson’s Conservative wave. Even Durham, a symbolic jewel in the crown thanks to Labour’s long support of the miners, finally turned its back on that very party. Nandy knew why. Corbyn’s Labour had been swept up in well-intentioned policy that was sadly not well-adjusted. Free broadband wasn’t a priority for people. Functioning buses were. Immigration was a concern, too. Except nobody was really defending the practical (and the compassionate) reasons for it. And though our liberal ears in the capital don’t like to hear it, Brexit had to happen. People voted for it. People wanted it done, no matter the economic, social and legal cost that couldn’t be reasoned in a pithy soundbite.

Of course, hindsight is a real hottie: we now know that such a complex question should never have been posed to the public. But rather than block it entirely, like some of her peers, Nandy voted for it. She knew she had a better chance of a better deal. She knew an amended Brexit bill could better protect child refugees. When Corbyn was dividing the public following the referendum, she resigned from his shadow cabinet. The 40-year-old even went as far to orchestrate the failed campaign to replace him with Owen Smith. Not because she disliked Corbyn. On the contrary, she’s defended him plenty in the leadership race. But Nandy did so because she saw the slow reconstruction of Labour’s broad church into a socialist temple to the Supreme Leader. That sort of factionalism doesn’t work well in a two party system.

She’s smart. She’s inclusive. She knows that Labour has to appeal to those in Hammersmith as much as it does to Hull, with local policy that affects local people. In a speech launching the outsider campaign, she said “we change or we die” to those gathered at Centrepoint, the homeless charity at which Nandy once worked. As a BAME woman who looks less like the Prime Ministers of yore, and more like the new class of leadership in New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Finland’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, Nandy would finally meld the symbolism of identity politics with no-nonsense policy chops across all strands of the party. Labour wouldn’t just have its first woman leader, or its first ethnic minority leader. It’d have the right leader for right now. That bus is well overdue.

Images | shutterstock