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What will be on the new Labour leader’s to-do list?

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Jeremy Corbyn’s successor is being announced this weekend

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TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

From addressing anti-Semitism allegations to tackling the coronavirus crisis

In Depth Gabriel Power
Friday, April 3, 2020 - 2:57pm

The new leader of the Labour Party will be announced tomorrow, following months of voting by members to decide who will succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

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The remaining contenders for the role have been whittled down to Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer, the favourite to win the contest.

The result will be announced both online and in the media mid-morning on Saturday.

But what will be top of the agenda for the next Labour leader after they take office?

Respond to the coronavirus pandemic

The most pressing issue in the new Labour leader’s plan for the future will be their party’s role in tackling the coronavirus crisis.

Former Conservative leader William Hague says it would be “constitutionally correct” for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to brief the new Labour chief directly on the government’s strategy to contain the virus.

“Really, the leader of the opposition is owed explanations from the government about what they’re doing,” Hague told The Times

Citing the example of the delays surrounding Covid-19 testing, Hague said that “you probably want the leader of the opposition to have a good understanding of what the bottlenecks are and what the difficulties are. Otherwise he’s going to be putting you under pressure to do things that you can’t do.”

Leadership contender Nandy has also called for cooperation between the parties, floating the idea of a “national Cobra” emergency committee comprising government ministers, opposition politicians and devolved governments.

Not everyone agrees, however. In an article for The Guardianthe Spectator’s deputy political editor Katy Balls suggests that many of Starmer’s supporters believe that that “once in place, there is still a limit to the role a Labour leader ought to play in this”.

“The thinking: either the government handles the crisis well – in which case there is little they can do,” she continues. “Or it falls short – in which case it is going to have to own that regardless of what any opposition leader says or does.”

Appoint a shadow cabinet

A strong shadow cabinet “needs unity, loyalty, diversity, accountability and strong media performers to be the message carriers for the party”, says the LabourList news website.

“If we are to be a credible voice, it is vital that the Labour Party pulls together. We must leave the last four years of unhealthy and damaging division in the past.” 

The Sunday Times suggests that Starmer may go for a “scorched earth” approach if he wins the leadership, “purg[ing] Jeremy Corbyn’s allies in the shadow cabinet and party headquarters within weeks” in a bid to “break definitively with the factionalism of the party under his predecessor”.

Deal with anti-Semitism scandal

Allegations of anti-Semitism have dogged the party under Corbyn’s leadership, triggering a number of high-profile resignations and dealing a major blow to Labour’s election campaign last December. 

This week, Starmer vowed to restore Labour’s “important relationship” with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and “deal with those within his party who continue to deny there is a problem with anti-Semitism”, The Jewish Chronicle reports.

However, Starmer downplayed calls to purge the party of tens of thousands of members over the issue. 

The London-based newspaper reports that “some Labour figures have suggested that up to 20,000 members of the party should face automatic expulsion for what would appear to be clear-cut examples of anti-Semitic conduct”.

Starmer said: “I just don’t know where people are getting the numbers from, I just don’t know - but there are clear cases. We have all seen them and they have to be dealt with robustly and swiftly and there’s no reason they can’t be.”

Build an electoral base

As The Telegraph notes, “in the post-Jeremy Corbyn world, the stakes are high for a party that has seen its traditional working-class support collapse in its northern heartlands”.

“A new leader who moves too far to the right to head off the Tories could alienate the young, urbanite voters that have flocked to the party since Corbyn took over,” the newspaper continues. “But a failure to rehabilitate the party’s moderates and centrists could leave Labour ripped apart for a generation.”

That warning is echoed in an article for LabourList written by two members of pro-Labour group Progress, Nathan Yeowell and Joseph Holland, although they are more damning of the outgoing leader’s legacy.

“Front and centre, there is no escaping the fact that Jeremy Corbyn and the politics he has come to represent was a massive turn-off for the general public,” the pair say. “His political worldview was irreconcilable with maintaining the support of our voters, particularly given the patriotism of our traditional base.

“Reports alleging that he had historic sympathies with the IRA, Islamist groups and Russia were toxic, with councillors and activists reporting voters slamming doors in their faces because of this perceived support.”

Pointing to the further damage that has been caused by the allegations of anti-Semitism within the party, Yeowell and Holland conclude that there is “a lot of work to do if the party is to recover its political position”.

Politics
Labour Keir Starmer Lisa Nandy Rebecca Long-Bailey Jeremy Corbyn Coronavirus

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