With Lisa Nandy making it onto the ballot paper in the Labour leadership contest, the competition has just got rather less predictable. It had previously been assumed that the final fight before the membership would consist of a battle between Corbynism and not-Corbynism in the form of Rebecca Long-Bailey vs Keir Starmer. Now, presuming Long-Bailey makes it too, there will be a much wider debate.
So far, though Nandy hasn’t had any nominations from constituency Labour parties, while Starmer and Long-Bailey have got 15 and five respectively. While they don’t need to get the required 33 CLPs if they already have three affiliate organisations, including two trade unions, the candidates will still want to show they have local party support. CLP nominations are, if nothing else, an indicator of what the membership is thinking as the party heads for the final round.
But it is still early for nominations: the candidates have until 14 February to get them, and Nandy does not currently have as good recognition among members as the other two candidates. She is trying to overcome this by accepting as many media bids as possible, and being markedly strident in those interviews in order to show members that she’s got a strong personality. Just getting onto the ballot will help her.
Nandy’s team have been working on a second-preference strategy whereby members still like what she’s saying enough to put her second on their ballots, meaning she can hoover up support as other candidates drop out. But that relies on there being multiple rounds of counting: YouGov yesterday updated its projection to take account of Jess Phillips dropping out, and concluded that Starmer could win in the first round.
Starmer has been helped early on by a sense of inevitability about his candidacy. That’s what secured him the support of so many MPs so quickly, and it will have had a knock-on effect with CLP nominations too. But this doesn’t always serve a contender particularly well for the duration of a contest, particularly if they end up playing it so safe that a rival can out-spark them and excite members more. That surely has to be Nandy’s opportunity: the wildcard candidate who comes through the middle and surprises members by being just the leader they were after all along.