The dynamics of the Labour leadership election were radically altered when the leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn secured, with minutes to spare, the 35 nominations required to stand.
His inclusion on the ballot delighted his supporters but demoralised some MPs, who said it would “pervert the centre of gravity of the debate even further from where the public are”.
John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said Corbyn’s candidacy showed the party’s desire never to win again. Jonathan Reynolds, a supporter of another leadership contender, Liz Kendall, said it showed that Labour was not taking itself seriously.
Those who nominated Corbyn late included three London mayoral contenders – David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Gareth Thomas. They acted in the final few minutes before the deadline not because they want Corbyn to be leader, but because they feel his strand of anti-austerity politics should be represented in the contest.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, who had been positioning herself as the compromise centre candidate in a field of three between Kendall and Andy Burnham, may be the biggest short-term loser. By contrast, Burnham, who was concerned that he was being portrayed as the leftwing, union-backed candidate, can now point to Corbyn on his political left.
Burnham, the shadow heath secretary, received 68 nominations from MPs, mainly from the north. Cooper received 59, Kendall 41 and Corbyn 36. At least 14 of Corbyn’s nominees will not vote for him, but Corbyn said his place on the ballot paper marked the launch of a “broader anti-austerity movement” in the country.
The end of the nominations marks the start of a new phase of the contest. The candidates will now go out to campaign in the party, starting on Wednesday with a one-hour Newsnight special in front of an invited audience in Nuneaton. Such TV and radio specials will be a big test of whether Kendall, the least experienced of the four, can convince as the change candidate.
In the ballot, party members and registered union supporters will rank candidates in a preferential system, with the lowest-ranked candidate dropping out round by round and their votes transferred until one candidate reaches 50% of those voting.
The extent to which the politics of the Labour party has changed since 2010, when the former foreign secretary David Miliband overwhelmingly won the support of party members, remains an open question. The party has recruited an extra 60,000 members since the election, and anecdotally their politics is relatively left. Unions still hope to recruit as many as 100,000 members by the date at which the membership list is frozen.
At least a third of the party membership is in London and the south-east, not necessarily a stronghold for Burnham. Scotland, until this year seen as a Labour stronghold, has only 13,000 members.
Reynolds, the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, stressed that he had no personal animus towards Corbyn, but said the leftwinger’s presence on the ballot paper suggested the party had not learned any lessons from last month’s general election defeat. “If people think Jeremy is genuinely the man to win a parliamentary majority, a leader who can win not just Nuneaton but also Corby and Thurrock, then they are deluding themselves, and someone needs to say that,” he said. “If Jeremy was leader, the Tories would win a majority of at least a 100, and possibly more. It would be comparable to the Tories selecting Bill Cash as their leader.”
In a further sign of simmering tensions, both Burnham and Cooper were forced to deny that any member of their campaign team had briefed the Telegraph that Kendall’s star was waning marking the end of “Taliban New Labour”, remarks that infuriated Kendall’s supporters. The anonymous source had claimed: “But the trouble with that is that the fizzle and sparkle has gone already. Now the contest has moved on to the membership, who will not be interested in that kind of rhetoric or those policies, you will see her star wane very quickly.”
Kendall supporters say they remain shocked by the political complacency of their opponents in light of Labour’s defeat, and wonder how the familiar solutions being offered so far by Cooper and Burnham, such as fighting child poverty and promoting technical education – two staples of the Brown years – can be regarded as radical change.
But there was a clear sign that at least one of Kendall’s rivals had recognised it was time to distance themselves from previous leaders. In her most substantive speech to date, Cooper said on Monday there should be no “no-go areas” for Labour and criticised the “narrow strategy” under Ed Miliband.
She added: “We won’t deliver a Labour government by swallowing the Tory manifesto, Tory plans or Tory myths. In the end, the Tories don’t have the right values or the right answers for our country. Nor will we win by simply trying to splice together a shopping list of retail policies, targeted at different slices of the electorate. No ‘vote Labour and win microwave’.”
Cooper said Labour had failed to show that it had a “credible enough plan” for jobs and career opportunities and had not persuaded voters that it understood the big issues of the time, such as the rise of nationalism, uncertainty over Europe, and the threat posed by Islamic State.
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