If I had to guess which Labour MP would enter the leadership race at this late stage while attending a climate change conference in Abu Dhabi, it would probably be Barry Gardiner. There was much confusion last night when the wild card of the parliamentary party was reported by both Lewis Goodall and HuffPost to be preparing a run for the top job. It was also claimed that Unite’s Len McCluskey had encouraged the move, but the general secretary issued a firm denial. Ultimately, it was established that Gardiner’s support was exaggerated, but the Brent MP is indeed considering his options and will confirm whether or not he is standing very soon.
What would be the impact of a Gardiner bid on Labour’s leadership race? We must first acknowledge that securing the 22 required nominations from MPs and MEPs looks unlikely. Many of his colleagues will probably respond to the news as Louise Haigh did on Sky News this morning: with much laughter, and a comment describing the situation as “surreal”. A bit like this extraordinary video from the election campaign. But there are good reasons not to completely dismiss this potential candidacy.
Gardiner has already been endorsed by a number of Corbynite digital outriders. You might wonder how they could overlook his apparent support for Narendra Modi, vote for the Iraq war and history of serving under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But a lot of fiercely pro-EU party members overlooked Jeremy Corbyn’s Eurosceptic record in 2015, and Gardiner was seen to have been very loyal to Corbyn. Voters often have short memories. The present appeal of the Shadow International Trade Secretary is clear: considered an excellent media performer, some on the Labour left believe that he would be best-placed to deal with the onslaught of attacks by the right-wing media to which every Labour leader is subjected. He would certainly liven up those televised leadership debates.
91 Labour MPs and MEPs have already nominated a candidate, however, which is nearly half of the electorate at this stage of the process. As the first contender to have passed the threshold for required nominations, Keir Starmer is easily scooping up votes from the soft left as well as soft Corbynsceptics. This broad church is reflected in his campaign team, too, which comprises key Corbynite figures – Kat Fletcher and Simon Fletcher, who worked on Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign – and staffers who backed Owen Smith and Liz Kendall. Jon Lansman and Matt Zarb-Cousin are heading up Rebecca Long-Bailey’s team, which means both frontrunners have drawn from the Labour left to make important appointments.
In another major boost for his campaign, Starmer also received the crucial endorsement of UNISON, as did Angela Rayner for deputy. As I’ve said before, Starmer is set to fly through the first two stages of this process, which allows him to focus on the all-member ballot earlier than others. You can see why some of those on the Labour left who follow the Socialist Campaign Group line are nervous: the chances of a Starmer/Rayner win are increasing daily. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.