06:19 GMT30 November 2020
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    The Conservative Party has had two women leaders - Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May - but despite its support for feminist issues, the Labour Party has never been led by a female. Will it happen in 2020 or will Sir Keir Starmer be the chosen one?

    The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee met on Monday, 6 January, to decide on the process for the election of a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

    Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner also confirmed on Monday she would be seeking to become the Labour Party’s next deputy leader, replacing Tom Watson.

    ​She is the fourth Labour MP to aim for the deputy leader vacancy - the others being Dawn Butler, Richard Burgon and Khalid Mahmood.

    But who is in the running for the top job?

    Keir Starmer

    The betting favourite is Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, who launched his campaign for the leadership on Saturday, 4 January, with a glossy video on social media which highlighted his long record as a lawyer representing society’s underdogs.

    Starmer, 57, only became an MP in 2015 when he succeeded the retiring Frank Dobson - who died last month - but his potential was quickly spotted and he became Shadow Immigration Minister and then was promoted to Shadow Brexit Secretary by Jeremy Corbyn when he became leader.

    ​Although Starmer has been in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet ever since he has somehow not been tarnished by the stain of “Corbynism” and many on the right wing of the party believe he is the man to steer it back towards the centre ground, where it won three elections under Tony Blair.

    Starmer, who was Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013, has said Labour’s 2019 manifesto was “overloaded” with policies and included some promises - including free broadband - which the electorate simply did not believe were credible.

    But it would be wrong to see Starmer as a neo-Blairite and if he became leader he is unlikely to lead the party markedly to the right. Instead, he will simply try to get the party to keep its message more focused and professional.

    One of Starmer’s biggest drawbacks as Leader could be his reputation as a Remainer and he has been blamed by some MPs for dragging the party’s policy on Brexit too far away from Corbyn’s original position, which was to accept the democratic will of the people in the 2016 referendum.

    Starmer is fully aware of this and has made it abundantly clear that he has accepted the battle for Brexit is now over.

    ​Starmer told the BBC: "We are going to leave the EU in the next few weeks and it is important for all of us, including myself, to recognise that the argument about leave and remain goes with it. We will have left the EU and this election blew away the argument for a second referendum, rightly or wrongly, and we have to adjust to that situation, the argument has to move on."

    Rebecca Long-Bailey

    Rebecca Long-Bailey, who formally entered the leadership race on Tuesday, 7 January, is expected to have the best chance of any woman in the contest.

    Long-Bailey, 40, has already done a deal with another rival Rayner, who has agreed to be her Deputy. The fact that Rayner is her flatmate in London has helped matters.

    ​Long-Bailey represents Salford & Eccles, a constituency on the outskirts of Manchester where the pro-Brexit backlash reduced her majority but never put her in danger of joining the 60 or so Labour MPs whose “Red Wall” constituencies were lost to the Tories on 12 December.

    Long-Bailey is selling herself to Labour Party members as the “continuity Corbyn” candidate, and has said nothing since the election to criticise her leader or the party’s 2019 manifesto.

    The daughter of a docker, Long-Bailey is no doubt intelligent and was one of the more accomplished Shadow Cabinet performers during the election campaign.

    She can expect to pick up tens of thousands of votes from women and from male feminists who are keen to see the party have a female leader.

    But the Shadow Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, lacks Corbyn’s charisma and Starmer’s gravitas and may struggle to win back the “Red Wall” at the next election.

    Jess Phillips

    The Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips dismayed many Labour Party members when she said at the weekend that if she became prime minister she would consider applying to rejoin the European Union.

    She told the BBC: "The reality is if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the European Union, then I will fight for that regardless of how difficult that argument is to make.”

    Her statement was a reminder of how out of kilter the views of Phillips are with those of many traditional Labour voters, who abandoned the party in droves last month and voted Tory “to get Brexit done”.

    Phillips, 38, is a maverick feminist who worked for the domestic violence charity Women's Aid before becoming an MP and has made headlines at Westminster with her campaigning on equality issues and violence against women.

    Her chances of being elected Leader are not good, mainly because she has not been forgiven by the majority of Labour Party members - who remain Corbynite - for her constant sniping at Jeremy Corbyn before and even during the election campaign.

    Lisa Nandy

    Lisa Nandy was one of a number of Shadow Cabinet members who resigned - following Hillary Benn - in the failed “coup” against Jeremy Corbyn in June 2016.

    The plotters claimed Corbyn had not been active enough in the Remain campaign.

    Several colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party wanted the MP for Wigan to challenge Corbyn for the leadership but she wisely declined, instead co-chairing Owen Smith’s failed attempt.

    ​Nandy kept her head down for the next three years but she re-emerged in the wake of Boris Johnson’s devastating victory last month to claim Labour’s leadership had paid the price for ignoring the wishes of its voters in Leave constituencies.

    Nandy, 40, has now put herself forward for the leadership and she will probably get a lot of support from the right and the centre of the party from members who want the party to be able to reach out to former Labour voters in the Red Wall seats.

    But she may still be seen as a “traitor” by the majority of Corbyn-supporting Labour members and that could be an unbridgeable obstacle.

    Emily Thornberry

    The Shadow Foreign Secretary was one of the first to throw her hat in the ring after Jeremy Corbyn made it clear he was going to resign, but she has few pros and plenty of cons.

    One of the biggest criticisms of Corbyn’s Labour Party was that it was too London-centric and had too many London MPs in the Shadow Cabinet.

    In fact it was not just London but a specific part of north London that was over-represented: Islington.

    Corbyn is MP for Islington North and Thornberry is MP for Islington South.

    Britain's Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry speaks during a final general election campaign event in London, Britain, December 11, 2019
    Britain's Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry speaks during a final general election campaign event in London, Britain, December 11, 2019

    So does the party really want to be led by another member of the “Islington mafia” - especially one who has previous for snobbish and condescending remarks towards patriotic, working class voters.

    In 2014 she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet after tweeting a picture of a white van outside a house in Kent which was festooned with English flags.

    Last month she angrily denied telling an MP in a Leave constituency: “I am glad my constituents are not as stupid as yours.” 

    Thornberry has threatened to sue former Labour MP Caroline Flint, who made the claim about her.

    On Sunday, 5 January, Thornberry said she was still considering legal action and told Sky: “You can’t just make up rubbish about me and not expect me to take legal action. People can slag me off, and they do, but so long as they do it on the basis of truth, I’ll take it on the chin. But if they start making things up, I have to take legal action. I deeply regret that we’re going to need to do this, but if we have to do it we have to do it.”

    Flint says she stands by her remarks.

    Clive Lewis

    Another early name in the hat was Clive Lewis, the MP for Norwich South, who is also from the Corbynista wing of the party.

    Lewis, 48, is the Shadow Treasury Minister for Sustainable Economics but has very little name recognition outside the Labour Party.

    ​One of his supporters, Rachael Maskell MP, wrote recently: “A leadership battle will always elicit a chorus of ‘wannabes’ with the self-declaring belief that they are simply the best. N ot so Clive, he is a ‘wannado.’ In the midst of a domestic and climate crisis he has not just reached for the megaphone but for the evidence, to develop a programme of sustainable economics to challenge the neo-liberal industrial narrative and set a radically different course socially and economically.”

    But Lewis not only represents a solidly Remain constituency, but gives the impression that he has not really got the message from the electorate over Brexit.

    Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party
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