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Life After Corbyn? The Politicians Vying to Become Labour Leader

Alex Morales and Jessica Shankleman

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Labour Party is looking for a new leader after Jeremy Corbyn announced his plan to resign in the wake of the heavy election defeat last month.

His successor will have the task of uniting a party that has become bitterly divided over Corbyn’s socialist policies and accusations of antisemitism. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair -- the only person to lead Labour to an election victory in 45 years -- has urged a wholesale change of approach.

Despite his failure to win at national level, Corbyn’s popularity among grassroots party members will be a key factor in deciding who takes his place. Labour has set out plans for a three-month contest, with the winner to be announced on April 4. On Monday, five of six declared candidates cleared the threshold of 22 nominations needed from members of the U.K. Parliament and the European Parliament in order to progress to the next stage. Here are the candidates:

Keir Starmer, 57: The Arch Remainer

Keir Starmer, Corbyn’s Brexit spokesman, is the front-runner, according to a YouGov polling of Labour members, comfortably ahead of Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Starmer hasn’t always been loyal to the current leader -- particularly when it comes to the question of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union. He backed Corbyn’s rivals in the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests and is one of the party’s most vocal Remainers.

While he has been accused of being out of touch with working class Leave voters in northern England, he’s arguably closer to them than Corbyn, who was privately educated. He told the BBC he’d never been in an office until he left university, because his father worked in a factory and his mother was a nurse. He has been careful not to criticize Corbyn too much, saying everyone in the party’s leadership shares responsibility for its defeat.

Starmer has positioned himself as a middle-ground candidate who is neither Corbynite or Blairite, telling activists that “factionalism has to go,” and now isn’t the time to “trash” either the last Labour government under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or Corbyn’s hard-left leadership.

He has also warned the party not to “oversteer” after the election defeat, arguing Labour should “build on” Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and radical agenda. At his campaign launch, he said the party has to “be bold enough to say the free market model doesn’t work” because wealth hasn’t trickled down through society. He called for a “new economic model.”

Starmer has an impressive legal career behind him, and was knighted for his role as Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013 before he became an MP in 2015.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, 40: The Chosen One

If you were going to build a new Labour leader from scratch, Rebecca Long-Bailey would probably tick most of the boxes: A young, female, strong media performer who hails from a northern constituency with a safe majority.

Crucially, she’s also loyal to the current leadership, even standing in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in June. With the party’s membership still firmly to the left of Labour’s MPs, this could prove key in gaining the support needed to win the contest. She was second behind Starmer, on 23%, in YouGov’s poll of Labour members.

She has said the next leader should be a champion for “progressive patriotism” and admitted trust in Labour’s policies was an issue among voters. But in an article for Tribune magazine announcing her candidacy, she said last month’s defeat “was a failure of campaign strategy, not of our socialist program” and she remains committed to Corbyn’s core message.

“I’m a lifelong socialist, dedicated to our movement and determined to do my bit,” she wrote. “You’re as likely to see me on a picket line as you are at the dispatch box, and you can trust me to fight the establishment tooth and nail.”

She gave Corbyn “10 out of 10” for his leadership in an interview early in the campaign, but she’s since become more critical of his tenure, saying the party hadn’t done enough on antisemitism, and “didn’t win the argument” in the general election -- contradicting the current leader. She also said she would abolish the House of Lords.

Long-Bailey is a close friend of Angela Rayner, and has said she’d back Labour’s education spokeswoman to be deputy leader. Rayner has returned the favor. There have been suggestions they could be the party’s next power duo, akin to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or indeed Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Emily Thornberry, 59: Corbyn’s Neighbor

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, was the first to publicly state her intention to run for leader. Writing in the Guardian newspaper, she underlined one of her key strengths: the fact she has a direct record against Boris Johnson. Describing her time opposite Johnson as his shadow while he was foreign secretary, Thornberry said she “took the fight to him every day and pummeled him every week... He hated it, especially coming from a woman.”

A strong media performer with experience in both Ed Miliband’s and Corbyn’s senior leadership teams, Thornberry pushed hard for Labour to back holding a second referendum on Brexit.

Old gaffes may come to haunt her, however. She was forced to resign her shadow cabinet post in 2014 after tweeting a picture of a white van and English flags which was seen as mocking working-class voters -- the very people Labour needs to win back. Asked about that in a BBC interview during the leadership campaign, she said she’d posted the photo to show people what a by-election is like. She said she’d been brought up on a council estate and “I don’t sneer at people.”

She represents Islington South, neighboring Corbyn’s district, and members may question whether another Londoner is the right choice to secure nationwide support. Thornberry said members shouldn’t judge candidates on “where they live in our country” but instead on whether they have the “political nous and strategic vision” needed.

Lisa Nandy, 40: Cheerleader for Towns

Lisa Nandy is emerging as one of the “soft-left” front-runners, and launched her bid for the top job with a letter to the local newspaper in the town of Wigan, where she’s been the MP since 2010. She’d previously told the BBC that Labour’s “shattering defeat” left towns like hers feeling like “the earth was quaking.”

“We have one chance to win back the trust of people in Wigan, Workington and Wrexham: without what were once our Labour heartlands we will never win power in Westminster,” Nandy wrote to the Wigan Post. “We need a leader who is proud to be from those communities, has skin in the game, and is prepared to go out, listen and bring Labour home to you.”

A former charity worker, Nandy is media-friendly and her northern roots will be seen as an advantage as Labour seeks to win back its traditional voters who abandoned the party in the election. She co-founded the Centre for Towns, a think tank that aims to revive smaller urban areas.

A Corbyn opponent, Nandy quit as Labour’s energy spokeswoman in 2016 to join an attempt to overthrow him, and served as co-chair in Owen Smith’s failed leadership campaign. She campaigned against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, but has since argued the EU divorce must be delivered. She voted for Johnson’s deal in October, but then voted against it in December because she said Johnson is no longer interested in making cross-party compromises to improve the bill.

--With assistance from Greg Ritchie.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny

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