Labour leadership: some reflections and analysis

by Jackie_South on August 22, 2015

UnknownI’ve been in Washington DC for a couple of days.

Halfway between Capitol Hill and the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue is the monumental old Post Office building, its tower a Washington landmark. The Postal Service sold it a few years ago to a certain hotel chain. The hoarding outside announces the process of the renovation works: “Coming 2016 … Trump”.

I am sure that this is no coincidence from a showman like Donald Trump: the hoarding is surely announcing his intentions for next year about another building on Pennsylvania Avenue. I am sure that there are many twists to come in the 2016 Presidential race, and there is still every chance that Trump’s campaign will implode. But at the moment he is riding high: far and away the most popular candidate for Republicans in recent polls. If you thought that his outrageous behaviour in the first candidates’ debate would dent his allure, it appears to have only boosted it. 24% of Republicans now back him, a lead of 11% over his nearest rival (the other gainers post-debate have been the other non-politicians in the race: Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Perhaps more incredibly, Trump leads the field too in polls in New Hampshire, where the first primary proper is held, on 18% and 5% ahead of second placed Jeb Bush who realistically has to win there to stand a chance of taking the nomination.

So a party that has lost two general elections in a row after having its economic credibility eviscerated in the 2008 banking crash turns towards a political maverick who sounds like a true believer, despite the fact that it will probably ensure that the current incumbents win a third time. In doing so, the party faithful are rejecting career politicians who sound overly cautious or too willing to concede territory to their rivals.

Sound familiar?


In Thursday’s Washington Post, there were two quotes about the presidential election that rung true for me in reflecting on the Labour Party leadership campaign.

First, one from Hillary Clinton: “In politics, if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf”. The second was from a Trump supporter at a rally in New Hampshire about a more establishment candidate: “Jeb Bush is a low-energy person. For him to get things done is hard.”

These pretty much sums up the difficulties for the Burnham and Cooper campaigns to me: they might have interesting ideas, but if they can’t articulate them in a way that engages with people on the voters’ terms or display the level of passion needed to force things through, they’ll be staying on that shelf.

That said, they remain my own first and second choices in the leadership race.

Corbyn is Labour’s Trump (or indeed Bernie Sanders, who I have heard enthusiastic praise for too whilst I have been here): a passionate advocate for the views of the true believers but without the reach across to attract enough other voters to his side in the places where it matters. After 32 years in Parliament, Corbyn was not even trusted enough with sharp objects to be made junior minister for paper clips, or chair of the select committee on nad scratching. The idea that he could run a major party, let alone a government, is risible.

Kendall certainly has the vigour that seems to be lacking in Cooper and Burnham, but will put forward policy positions that would split the party even quicker than Corbyn would, not least because she is relatively inexperienced and so would find it difficult to exert authority on the party whatever her personal skills. Her view that we should increase defence spending (the very part of the state that seems least frugal in its expenditure) whilst slashing welfare is for me a red line and puts her at the bottom of my ballot paper.

Of Burnham and Cooper, it seems to me a no-brainer if Labour is interested in winning back power. Yvette Cooper has steel that Burnham does not. She would be difficult for Cameron to best in the House: he has difficulty against women, and Cooper can be rapier sharp at her best. She comes across as credible to key voters (ask someone over 55 who is interested but not involved in politics). Burnham can sometimes look like a little boy lost, and has the Mid-Staffordshire political millstone as a burden too.

So, my ballot paper will run Cooper-Burnham-Corbyn-Kendall. But Cooper really does have to up her game.


Enough of my own views. As the ballots arrive and are returned, what about the endorsers for the candidates?

I am not going to look at the list of the MPs and unions backing the candidates, but what I thought might be a more useful exercise was reviewing the 390 constituency nominations that were made.

Some constituencies did not nominate because they chose not to, some because the logistics of doing so were a challenge given the relatively tight window of time permitted for this after candidates secured sufficient nominations from MPs. Of course, some constituencies may have had tight contests, so winning a nomination does not necessarily mean that a candidate will win the most votes there: in my own CLP (a rare Kendall win) the first vote was tight between Cooper, Corbyn and Kendall and was only won by the latter by two votes in the final Corbyn-Kendall runoff.

There are also two geographical aspects to the Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) nominating that should be noted before we get to the analysis. First, although the party does not stand candidates in Northern Ireland, the party members there act as a single CLP and nominated Andy Burnham. Given that it does not reflect any parliamentary candidates prospects, I’ve not included this in my figures below taking the total to 389.

Second, whilst English and Welsh CLPs reflect Westminster Parliamentary seats, in Scotland CLPs are based on Holyrood constituencies. That of course complicates considering whether a seat is held by Labour: Labour hold 16 of the 73 Holyrood constituencies (plus another 56 list members) but only one Westminster constituency. Given the boundary complexities, I am therefore judging whether a seat is held by Labour and what its share of support there is by the 2011 Scottish Parliament results.

Looking at the 389 (sorry, Andy), the number of CLP nominations for each candidate was as follows:


I’ll keep to these colours later on (Burnham gold, Cooper green, Corbyn red and Kendall blue). It is clear from the pie chart that Corbyn is well ahead, taking 39% of the nominations, followed by Burnham and Cooper almost tied on 28%. Kendall brings up the rear with a lowly 18 CLPs, only 5% of the total.

But what about the type of CLPs that are nominating candidates? Are all the Corbyn supporting CLPs safe seats where the local fortunes are less likely to be swayed by the calibre of the leader elected?

I have divided the 389 seats into six categories of winnability for Labour (hence the exclusion of Northern Ireland). These are:

  • “Safe” Labour seats – defined here as one where Labour’s majority exceeds 10%
  • Labour marginals – those held by Labour with a majority of 10% or less
  • Key marginals – seats where Labour needs a swing of 5% or less to win next time (i.e. Labour was 10% or less behind the winner last time)
  • Outside winnables – seats where Labour needs a swing of between 5% and 10%: harder, but Labour needs to win most of these to get into government
  • “Longshot” seats – Labour needs a swing of between 10% and 15%: Labour may be able to win some of these but is unlikely to win them all barring a Conservative collapse
  • “No hope” seats – ones where Labour would need a swing of over 15%, unlikely without particular constituency issues

Using these six categories for the CLPs, we can see how the support for each candidate is comprised:


The most remarkable thing about this graph is the lack of difference between candidates in the make-up of their endorsements. Corbyn’s 39% support overall is pretty consistent through the six categories: 41% of safe seats, 38% of Labour marginals, 40% of key marginals, 39% of outside winnables, 39% of “no hopes”. Only the longshots differ: 35%, but that is still the highest in this category.

So there is no evidence whatsoever that the competitiveness of a constituency has defined its willingness to support Corbyn.

There is a tendency for Burnham to be more popular than Cooper in Labour held seats (particularly safe seats) whilst Cooper does better in the seats not currently held by Labour, in particular key marginals and “no hopes”. But all these differences are relatively small.

More telling are the geographic differences. Corbyn won the most nominations in Scotland, Wales, the East Midlands, the South West, Yorkshire & Humber and his native London. Burnham was close behind in Scotland and won the most nominations in his North West base, the North East and the West Midlands. He tied with Yvette Cooper on nominations from the South East, and Cooper won the most nominations in the East of England.

For each of those regions, the maps below tell the tale:



Two-thirds of the Scottish CLPs made nominations. Burnham performed strongly in the west of Scotland, winning four Glasgow CLPs and seats to the city’s north, south and west. Corbyn did well in the east, winning CLPs in most of Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, as well as central belt seats such as Airdrie and Motherwell. Cooper seemed to fair well in more rural areas: Argyll, Galloway, Inverness, North East Fife. Kendall took a solitary nomination from Moray (a rock-solid SNP stronghold).



Only 21 of the 40 CLPs made nominations in Wales, and none of the Cardiff seats did. There is not a clear pattern here overall, although Corbyn took the three Swansea City seats (East, West and Gower) as well as the valley strongholds of Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil. Cooper came second in the principality, doing particularly well in the seats between Cardiff and Swansea with wins in Aberavon, Bridgend, Neath and Ogmore. Burnham picked up four (including Ray North’s Wrexham) and Kendall one (Carmarthen East).

East of England


Another region with low levels of nominations: 30 of the possible 58 did so. Yvette Cooper came out top here, winning 14, particularly in Essex (6, including the key marginal Thurrock) and Hertfordshire (also 6, including the key seat of Stevenage) as well as Norwich South, one of Labour’s few seats in the region. Jeremy Corbyn was close behind on 13, doing well in Suffolk, Norfolk (including Tory winnables Norwich North and Great Yarmouth), the Luton seats and marginal South Basildon. Burnham took 3 in a belt from winnable Harlow to longshot Basildon & Billericay. Kendall drew a blank here, despite growing up in (Cooper-supporting) Watford.

East Midlands


26 of the possible 46 CLPs made nominations, with half supporting Corbyn. Nottingham and Derbyshire were strong for him, whilst Cooper came second with 8 CLPs, including competitive constituencies such as the Northampton seats, Erewash and Loughborough. Burnham took four, including the Labour safe seats of Derby South and Mansfield. Despite this being Liz Kendall’s home region, she only secured the support of her own Leicester West CLP.



The highest percentage of nominations made was in London: 66 of the 73 CLPs made nominations. 30 backed Corbyn in his home region, particularly in north and north east London. Yvette Cooper came second with 16 nominations, fairly scattered across the capital, including George East’s Hackney South. This was Liz Kendall’s best region, giving her 12 nominations (of the total 18 she had over all), including eight in south London. Burnham’s professional northerner schtick seems to gone down less well in London, bringing up the rear with 8 CLPs.

North East England


Two-thirds of the CLPs nominated, with Andy Burnham winning 9 of the 19 made, including stronghold seats such as Blyth Valley, Jarrow, Middlesbrough and South Shields. Jeremy Corbyn came second on 7, including Newcastle Central, Sunderland Central and Gateshead. Lord Mandelson may be disappointed that his former Hartlepool CLP also backed Corbyn. Tony Blair though may be more happy that his old seat of Sedgefield supported Liz Kendall in her only nomination anywhere in the north of England. Cooper did poorly here, winning only Hexham and Newcastle East.

North West England


51 of the 75 constituencies made nominations, and Andy Burnham took the lion’s share in his own backyard with 27, doing particularly well in a belt focused around his Leigh constituency that runs from Southport to Oldham. Both Cooper and Corbyn took a dozen CLPs, with the former taking Bury and a belt along the banks of the Mersey from Liverpool Riverside to Altrincham and the latter an eastern Greater Manchester cluster and a scattering elsewhere. Kendall took none here.

South East England


Only 37 of the 84 constituencies made nominations, a 44% turnout and the lowest nationally – perhaps unsurprising in a region where Labour fares poorly, but none of the four constituencies in East Sussex that Labour held until 2010, nor the Milton Keynes, Oxford or Reading seats, made choices. Burnham and Cooper both took 14 of these, with Burnham winning the support of Labour’s safest in the region (Slough) and Cooper the outside winnables Crawley, Gravesham and Portsmouth South. This was the only region where Corbyn was third-placed, on 9, although this included both Southampton seats. Kendall won no nominations here, perhaps showing that her appeal in the south is not as hyped by some of her supporters.

South West England


33 of the 55 CLPs made nominations: a creditable number in a region that has not tended to favour the Labour Party, although the Plymouth marginals were notable in their absence. 15 of these went to Jeremy Corbyn (he was born in Wiltshire, after all!), but none in any seat that Labour is likely to win soon. He won four of the six Cornwall CLPs, including Charlie East-West’s home of St Austell, as well as Bobby West’s East Devon. Yvette Cooper took 10 nominations, including Exeter (the only non-Tory seat in the region outside of Bristol) and Dorset South (Labour until 2010). Andy Burnham won 7 nominations, including two Bristol marginal seats (Labour East and Conservative North West), Swindon South and Gloucester. Liz Kendall picked up a nomination from Newton Abbot CLP.

West Midlands


The second-worst turnout level, after the South East, with 28 of the 59 CLPs making nominations. Burnham took 11 of these, including key marginals Telford and Halesowen. Second was Jeremy Corbyn, taking 9 CLPs, including two seats Labour gained this May: Birmingham Yardley and Wolverhampton South West. Close behind them was Cooper, on seven, mainly in safe seats. Kendall was nominated by safely Labour Wolverhampton South East.

Yorkshire and Humber


29 of the 54 CLPs made nominations here, notable exceptions included Ed Miliband’s Doncaster North constituency, York and four of the five greater Bradford seats. Jeremy Corbyn won a majority of them: 17. This included a strong showing in Leeds, taking five of the city’s seven-and-a-half constituencies. Despite this being Cooper’s home region, she drew with Burnham with six nominations apiece. Her tally included her own Pontefract seat as well as her husband’s former Morley constituency. Burnham did well in South Yorkshire, winning four of the five nominations made there. This was another region where Kendall failed to secure a nomination.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Scotsjock August 22, 2015 at 7:33 am

Firstly Jackie, thank you for this really interesting article. I find your number breakdowns incredibly enlightening, and I appreciate how much work goes into them!

I just had one comment around your support of Yvette Cooper. around most people’s support of Yvette Cooper in fact. Can anyone argue in favour of supporting her without referencing the fact that she has ovaries? I’m not against Yvette, she got my second preference, however that was through sheer lack of competition; Kendall is far too right for my tastes and politically inexperienced, I agree with you that she would cause a massive division in the party; Burnham has a mixed record on gay rights, particularly on IVF treatment for lesbian couples citing that children should have a father figure, and on allowing gay men to donate blood.

Yvette’s campaign however has been an attempt to win through her sheer force of being boring. From the very beginning she ran a second preference campaign, not saying anything that might rock the boat or offend anyone, hoping that everyone that won’t vote Burnham will find her the least disagreeable. This may have worked if Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t blown the boat out of the water, pushing Cooper closer to a distant third, rendering her strategy useless.

Caught in third place and having run on essentially being boring, she realised that there would be no time to present a radical alternative to Burnham or Corbyn, or even Kendall who whilst I may disagree with her, at least had an opinion which I could disagree with. In order to try and take the second spot and therefore pick up the second preferences of the other candidates to become the anti-Corbyn candidate, she began calling her closest rivals who both happen to be men sexist. With no evidence, she trumped up comments, and played herself as the victim, attacking her closest rival Burnham most fiercely. Calling Burnham and Corbyn sexist because they happen to be beating her is both factually untrue and deeply offensive.

I am a true feminist, in that I truly believe that women are equal to men, and should be treated as such. If a woman is the best for the job, she should get the job. Unfortunately for Yvette, I don’t think she is the best suited to labour leader, and apparently neither does a large section of the Labour Party. I don’t think that she has the divine right to become the next Leader of the Opposition because she has a vagina, which is the only thing I know for sure that Yvette Cooper believes in.

To get my top spot you have to challenge the Tories on their record, put forward innovative policies that inspire, and say something, anything, about why I should vote for you. Yvette told us a hundred reasons not to vote for any of the other three, but apart from the fact she’s a woman, she hasn’t given me anything else to get me to go out and vote for her. Her ambition to win through sheer boredom and hope that Labour didn’t have the kind of debate it desperately needed is incredibly disappointing.

Labour needs a leader that stands FOR something; in a general election, running a second preference campaign means you lose. had Yvette taken a principled stand on policies, garnered votes by being the best leader, attacked the Tories on something – anything -, then I would be the first person to try to persuade everyone to support her. As it is, it seems like the main reason people think we should vote for her is because she is a woman, and as perverse as it may seem, that is sexist.


Ray_North August 22, 2015 at 9:37 am

Very interesting comment, to a superb piece by Jackie – you’ve excelled yourself mate!


Mike Killingworth August 22, 2015 at 5:24 pm

I think YC’s gender is relevant – in a way that Kendall’s isn’t. And that’s because we’ll never know if she’s even have stood if her husband hadn’t lost his seat.


Michael Snelgrove August 22, 2015 at 11:06 am

As a matter of fact Swindon South didn’t endorse any candidate.


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