The second stage of the Labour leadership contest kicks off today as nominations open for affiliated groups – including trade unions – and constituency Labour parties pick a leadership candidate to support. There are five hopefuls still in contention to succeed Jeremy Corbyn: Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry. Over the next month, each will need to either win the support of three affiliates or 33 CLPs in order to reach the final stage of the contest – where the membership has the final say.
With the race now out of the control of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the issue of which candidate is most liked by MPs starts to become a side point. Keir Starmer remains the favourite to win and has already won the backing of Unison. Meanwhile, his main rival Rebecca Long-Bailey is expected to win the support of Unite. Both Emily Thornberry and Jess Phillips will likely have to go via the CLP route rather than bank on union support. Thornberry’s last minute entry into the second round (she struggled to win enough MP nominations in the beginning) was not universally welcomed by Phillips’ allies who believe this makes it harder for Phillips to win the required CLP support.
However, there is one candidate whose path to the final round is looking increasingly positive: Lisa Nandy. So far Nandy has not been viewed as a main contender in the contest – there were initial doubts among rival teams that she would even make it through the first round. Her pitch has been that she can help reunite the party with its traditional heartlands. As a soft left member of the party, the MP for Wigan is in a good position to win union support. On Tuesday evening, the National Union of Mineworkers backed her (though it’s worth noting this isn’t a sign of Corbynite support – they backed Yvette Cooper in 2015) and there’s talk that GMB could also support her.
This means that Nandy has gone from an outside bet to having the clearest route to the final round outside of the two frontrunners. Nandy’s supporters believe that if she can reach the membership stage, there is a way she can win. This is because the voting system is preferential – voters pick their first and second preference for leader. If no candidate wins outright in the first round, whichever candidate is eliminated then has the second choice of their voters counted. If Nandy can pitch herself as the clear second preference choice for Phillips, Thornberry and Long-Bailey, she could see her chances boosted. Helping Nandy is the fact that her soft left credentials mean she may be a palatable second choice to Corbynites – while others simply prioritise ensuring that there is a female leader.
However, this alone won’t be enough. The first YouGov poll on Labour members suggested that Starmer had a very comfortable lead. Nandy not only needs to impress at the various hustings, she also needs Starmer to make a few mistakes.