Rebecca Long-Bailey is the progressive frontrunner of the Labour leadership race, having made numerous promising pledges. But she’s also been compromising with her opponents in ways that have alienated many of the people who would otherwise be her biggest backers. The sorry fact remains, though, that there are no alternatives for the left. So while recognising Long-Bailey’s obvious flaws, we also need to focus in on a key element of hope in her campaign that could fundamentally help to swing power away from party elites and towards the membership.
The Evening Standard interview
On 9 March, Long-Bailey did an interview with the Evening Standard – the paper edited by austerity architect George Osborne. It was always unlikely to be plain sailing. The co-author of the interview, meanwhile, was centrist Ayesha Hazarika – once a senior adviser to Ed Miliband. Hazarika backed Owen Smith’s unpopular leadership campaign in 2016, was fond of the disastrous Liberal Democrat leadership of Jo Swinson, openly pushed smears against outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and has made it clear that she thinks Labour should now move back to the right. So she was never going to give Long-Bailey an easy ride.
[Long-Bailey] would welcome back Luciana Berger even though she stood for a rival party at the last election.
As a Labour member, Berger faced accusations of “continually using the media to criticise” Corbyn’s leadership. She then joined other Remain-supporting MPs in defecting from the party in February 2019. This group participated in the vicious smear campaign against Labour’s lifelong anti-racist leader, which was due in large part to his longstanding criticism of the Israeli state’s human rights violations against Palestinians. Berger later joined the Liberal Democrats, failing to win in Finchley & Golders Green while splitting the anti-Tory vote.
The Standard article’s authors also wrote:
[Long-Bailey] would also like to see Alastair Campbell return
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The PR man of the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, Campbell announced publicly in July 2019 that he no longer wanted to be in the Labour Party. In May, he’d revealed that the party had expelled him for ‘voting Lib Dem’.
Not Long-Bailey’s words?
Many progressives quickly expressed dismay at the prospect of people like Berger and Campbell returning to the Labour Party. But others pointed out that the quotes above were not actually what Long-Bailey had said. Instead, they were the words of the article’s authors.
Exactly. I totally agree with this. The quotes from RLB read as "big regrets", “She had a terrible time” etc. The rest of the narrative is built around these hacked up comments with the obvious goal of rubbishing RLB & demoralising the Left.
— Len S. Grinder (@lensgrdr) March 9, 2020
Others pointed out that Labour’s 2019 rule book says supporters or members of non-Labour organisations in competition with the party cannot be members and the party will usually only consider re-admission after at least five years have passed. So re-admitting former members isn’t really up to Long-Bailey anyway.
But one important point made by some was that, even if Long-Bailey was happy to readmit former members, her plan to bring in open selection could well stop such members from getting into positions of power again:
Perhaps letting her rejoin the party & her then becoming an MP again, if RLB & RB are able to bring in Open Selection are 2 different things? 🤔
— Anthony James (@TonyjambJames) March 9, 2020
Open selection could be a game changer
Many groups on the UK left have championed open selections in recent years. These would allow Constituency Labour Parties to choose their own candidates without having to keep the same representatives indefinitely. And Long-Bailey has openly backed such a change, which would empower members. She said it would “open the door to a new generation of MPs and candidates”.
Long-Bailey is clearly doing her best to appease her opponents and avoid the same kind of hostility they greeted Corbyn with. It’s a very risky strategy, which has already alienated many committed left-wingers. And it may well be a losing strategy.
In the end, though, Long-Bailey isn’t just planning on keeping most Corbyn-era policies. She’s also planning on putting greater power in members’ hands. And if that means ordinary people could have the chance to choose their own candidates, that’s an element we can pin our hopes on when holding our noses and voting to make her party leader.
Featured image via Labour Party
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