Good morning and happy new year to everyone.
It certainly is for supporters of Sir Keir Starmer as next Labour leader. Over the last three weeks he and Rebecca Long Bailey have been seen as more or less joint favourites for the post – but for different reasons. Starmer has been seen as a likely winner because he is highly regarded by the public at large and if “looking like a credible PM” were the sole criterion for the job, he would probably easily beat the other candidates. But Long Bailey was seen as a likely winner because she was highly regarded by the Corbynites at the top of the party, and it was assumed that if they wanted her in the top job, the pro-Corbyn membership would duly vote for her too.
But the first poll of Labour members since the election defeat suggests that the second assumption is wrong, and that Starmer will prove much more popular with members. My colleague Kate Proctor has written it up here.
This is how her story starts.
Keir Starmer has emerged as an early frontrunner in the Labour leadership race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn after a poll of members suggested he was the first choice in all regions of the UK, age groups and social classes.
The shadow Brexit secretary is yet to formally launch his campaign but is expected to do so in the first few weeks of the new year. The new leader will be elected in March after Corbyn said he would step down following the party’s catastrophic general election defeat.
Polling by YouGov for the Party Members Project put Starmer as winning with a 61% vote share to 39% for the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, in the last round.
Jess Phillips, the chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party, who has yet to declare if she is running, was the third most popular choice among members, who were surveyed between 20 and 30 December.
And here is a Guardian graphic with some of the key figures.
It is routine to point out that polling can be unreliable (although that is not something people have been saying since the general election result, which was broadly in line with what the pollsters were predicting). And polling party members is harder than polling the public at large, because there are fewer of them. But YouGov can poll Labour members because it has a vast number of people on its database, and in 2015 and in 2016 its Labour membership polls turned out to be reliable guides to the outcome of the two elections that Jeremy Corbyn won handsomely.
The fact that Starmer is so far ahead at this stage does not mean he has it in the bag. He has not even announced his candidature yet and a lot could change during the campaign, particularly when candidates face the sort of scrutiny that they have never received before.
It is also important to remember that YouGov just polled Labour party members. In the leadership campaign two other categories of people get to vote: people affiliated to Labour through membership of a trade union or a socialist society, and people who pay a one-off fee to get a vote as a registered supporter. Although these two groups are broadly similar in outlook to Labour members, they don’t vote in exactly the same way. In 2015 and in 2016 the registered supporters were proportionately significantly more pro-Corbyn than members and affiliates.
And the fact that this poll has now come out will affect the dynamics of the contest. It will establish Starmer as the clear frontrunner – and incentivise his opponents. Labour’s national executive committee is meeting next week to determine the timetable for the leadership election, and how the registered supporters scheme will operate for this contest, and, in so far as the NEC is controlled by a particular faction in the party, it is not a faction that wants Starmer to win.
Andrew Adonis, the pro-European Labour peer, is one of the Labour figures who has welcomed the poll findings on Twitter this morning.
But Steve Howell, who was deputy director of strategy and communications for Labour in the 2017, has said that Starmer would be the wrong choice. Howell does not have a party role at the moment, but his views are always worth paying attention to because they tend to align with those of the “4Ms” – Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s communications chief, Karie Murphy, Labour’s elections chief, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, and Andrew Murray, an adviser to McCluskey and Corbyn – who are seen as four of the most powerful figures in the Corbyn leadership.
It looks as if it is going to be a quiet news day but, as usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I will post a summary when I wrap up.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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