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As Keir Starmer Stands on the Brink of Labour Leadership Victory, Is It the End for Corbynism?

© AP Photo / Matt DunhamJeremy Corbyn (left) and Keir Starmer
Jeremy Corbyn (left) and Keir Starmer - Sputnik International
Jeremy Corbyn, who has led the Labour Party to defeat in two general elections, finally steps down as leader on Saturday. The hot favourite to succeed him is Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer.

The new leader of the opposition Labour Party will be revealed on Saturday, 4 April, and the betting favourite is Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions.

Voting has taken place by postal ballot but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the party has cancelled a live event to announce the winner and will instead email out the result on Saturday morning, with a pre-recorded victory message from the winner.

​In December Labour suffered its worst general election result since 1935 and Jeremy Corbyn immediately announced he would not stay around to fight the next election.

More than half a million Labour Party members were eligible to vote in the leadership election, which was disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

​Mr Starmer - the only male contender to make it through to the final ballot - is up against Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy.

Ms Long-Bailey, 40, was appealing to hardline Corbynistas who believed the leader had been beaten by a conspiracy of big business and the media’s obsession with his alleged inability to tackle anti-Semitism within the party. She has been endorsed by the left-wing Momentum movement.

In January Ms Long-Bailey was asked by a journalist to rate Corbyn's leadership skills and replied: "I thought Corbyn was one of most honest kind principled politicians I’ve ever met … I’d give him 10 out of 10, because I respect him and I supported him all the way through."

​Ms Nandy, 40, was the complete outsider - an opponent of Corbyn’s leadership, she claimed to represent the Red Wall constituencies - previously safe Labour seats in the north of England and the Midlands which switched to the Conservatives.

Although she held on to her seat in Wigan, many similar constituencies were lost to the Tories.

​Mr Corbyn sent out an email to Labour Party members on Friday, 3 April, in which he said: “We could have achieved so much in government, and I am sorry that under my leadership we did not get there. In 2017 we came close, winning the biggest increase in the popular vote since 1945. Sadly, the 2019 election was a Brexit election and our attempt to bridge the gap between Leave and Remain voters was unsuccessful.”

​The email, and the narrative that the 2019 was solely lost on Brexit, ignored the widespread evidence that traditional Labour voters in the Red Wall constituencies actively disliked Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the party and deserted it in favour of the Tories.

​Mr Starmer has been blamed by many Labour MPs in pro-Brexit constituencies for pressuring Corbyn into amending the party’s policy on Brexit and promising a second referendum, which was wildly unpopular in areas of the country where they had voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

But Mr Starmer was quick to admit, after the General Election, that Labour had lost the national debate on Brexit and it was time to move on.

​In February he told Sky News: "We all take responsibility for that devastating election loss… People brought up the leadership of the Labour Party, fairly or unfairly, they brought up Brexit in different ways – what was said in the Midlands was different to what was said in Scotland, they brought up the fact that they thought the manifesto was overloaded and they didn’t believe we could deliver it all and, in a number of places, they brought up anti-Semitism.”

​Mr Starmer - who shares his first name with the founder of the party Keir Hardie, said Labour had lost four elections in a row and the party needed to make an “honest assessment of the nature of the task ahead.”

If he does win, Mr Starmer is expected to reshuffle the Shadow Cabinet early next week and among those who will be on their way out will be Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

​He is expected to give Ms Long-Bailey and Ms Nandy positions in the Shadow Cabinet and may bring back experienced veterans like Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, who were sidelined under Mr Corbyn.

But Mr Starmer will be under pressure not to abandon “Corbynism” - the left-wing policies adopted by Mr Corbyn after he won the leadership in 2015. Labour List reported on Thursday, 2 April, that a YouGov poll of Labour Party members had found the majority in favour of keeping many of Corbyn’s policies - including public ownership of key industries and introducing a four-day working week.

​Labour has been out of power since 2010 when Gordon Brown - who took over from Tony Blair three years earlier - lost a general election after Britain was caught up in the global financial crisis.

In his farewell email Corbyn, who will be 71 next month, said: “I will continue to campaign on the issues and principles that have motivated me as Leader, as an MP, as a councillor and as a party member for more than 50 years. I can assure you my voice will not be stilled. I'll be out there campaigning for socialism, peace and justice, and I feel sure we'll be doing that together.”

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