Do we already know the top two candidates in the Labour leadership contest? Tonight a poll by Survation for LabourList puts Rebecca Long-Bailey narrowly ahead of Keir Starmer for first preference votes on 42 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. There is a huge gap between these two and the other contenders: Jess Phillips is on 9 per cent, Lisa Nandy on 7 per cent and Emily Thornberry on 1 per cent.
The most powerful effect of a poll like this would be to polarise the contest so that members who want to stop the continuity Corbyn candidate, who is Long-Bailey, will think that Starmer is the only game in town. This is what happened in the 2015 contest: many members didn’t like what Liz Kendall was saying, but those who did agree with her also deserted her campaign as they didn’t think she had enough support to beat Jeremy Corbyn. She ended up winning just 4.5 per cent of the vote.
It is also a stunning result for Long-Bailey, given her campaign has been so muted so far. She hasn’t made half the appointments to her team that Phillips and Nandy have, and much of her energy seems to have been taken up with internal power struggles between various Labour factions who want her to be their candidate.
But it’s worth pointing out that this poll is of Labour members who are also on LabourList’s database, which means they are far more likely to be engaged than the average party member. It is also early in the contest, and Nandy, Phillips and Thornberry are scoring much lower than Starmer and Long-Bailey when it comes to how familiar members are with them and their policy platforms. Of those surveyed, 77 per cent rated their familiarity with Starmer as being between 7-10 out of 10, with 10 being the highest score, while 73 per cent gave the same rating to Long-Bailey. Phillips was the next most recognisable candidate, with 58 per cent scoring her between 7-10, with Nandy on 40 per cent and Thornberry on 37 per cent. When asked whether they’d already made their decision, 34 per cent those surveyed said they were still undecided about the candidate they would vote for. We don’t know whether these members and the wider, less-engaged electorate come to like what they see in those less familiar candidates as the regional hustings begin.