Allies of Jeremy Corbyn have been accused of trying to cement their power at the top of the party after they announced plans to appoint new staff to senior posts before the next leader is elected.
The party sent an email to staff last week advertising posts of head of press and broadcasting, head of policy development, and deputy regional director in London. The applications have to be made by early February.
The move by Labour headquarters, under the control of general secretary Jennie Formby, has prompted suspicion that Corbyn’s supporters are trying to install their own people in key roles made vacant by departing staff, to ensure some continuity once Corbyn leaves in April, rather than letting a new leader fill the posts once in office.
The first stage of the contest was for potential contenders to get the backing of 22 fellow MPs by 13 January. Five MPs passed this threshold: Keir Starmer (88 nominations), Rebecca Long-Bailey (33), Lisa Nandy (31), Jess Phillips (23) and Emily Thornberry (23).
The second stage requires each contender to win the support either of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs); or of three affiliates, two of which must be unions, and which between them account for at least 5% of the affiliated membership. This must be achieved before 14 February. Jess Phillips withdrew from the contest on 21 January.
The ballot of members and registered supporters opens a week later on 21 February, and closes at noon on 2 April. To be eligible to vote you must have been a Labour member on 20 January, or have applied to have become a £25 registered supporter by 16 January.
Corbyn’s successor will be announced at a special conference in London on 4 April.
One party insider said: “It is obvious that some of these jobs are of sufficient seniority and importance to how the Labour party will work for many years that they should not be advertised and appointed until the new leader is in place. The general secretary needs to call a halt to this. Otherwise it looks like the party is trying to impose senior press and policy staff on whoever is elected leader in April.” A Labour source denied there was any such intention, saying it had never been within the power of the leader to appoint people to the posts and that it would be unprecedented to delay filling the jobs until April.
“These roles are operational, and have always been appointed within HQ, not by the leader,” a Labour source said. “The party machinery continues regardless of any leadership election. Waiting three months to fill urgent vacancies would undermine the party’s activity, including the mayoral and local election campaigns.”
The dispute reflects deep tensions between rival wings of the party – and supporters of the four remaining candidates for the leadership – over its future direction and structures, following Labour’s worst general election result since 1935.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is widely believed to have the backing of Corbyn himself and has already secured support of the grassroots pro-Corbyn movement Momentum.
Last week she received a further boost, winning the endorsement of the country’s second biggest union, Unite. Its general secretary, Len McCluskey, a close ally of the outgoing leader, lauded her “brains and brilliance”. She now needs the backing of one more union or affiliated society to get onto the ballot paper with Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy.
The fourth contender, Emily Thornberry, is trying to use the other route onto the ballot paper, by gaining the support of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs). Yesterday Starmer had won the backing of 39 CLPs, Long-Bailey 15, Nandy 9 and Thornberry only 3.
Nandy, who has emerged as a strong challenger to both Starmer and Long-Bailey, will this week seek to position herself as the candidate with the best “green” credentials when she unveils plans to end all public funding for overseas fossil-fuel projects. This follows a BBC Newsnight investigation that revealed that a government agency, UK Export Finance, channelled UK taxpayers’ money into fossil-fuel projects around the world, which will together emit 69m tonnes of carbon a year. This is roughly equivalent to a sixth of the total carbon emissions of the UK.
Nandy said: “If I become prime minister, I would put a stop to all public financing of fossil-fuel projects anywhere, and offer incentives to job-creating, clean-energy exports instead.
“But the climate emergency means we also need to crack down on city banks to stop them investing our pensions and savings in the things fuelling the crisis and worsening poverty, flooding and wildfires across the world. In the year our country hosts the next major UN climate-change summit, we need bold action.”
Labour leadership contenders and their policies
Voted to remain and supported the party’s ambiguous Brexit policy. However, has said the party’s stance meant voters did not trust Labour.
She is championing a green industrial revolution, designed to create jobs and investment through schemes including home refurbishments, renewable energy and carbon capture.
Wants to bring a more upbeat message to the party, saying Labour should be more “aspirational”.
Momentum has backed her. Unite, by far the most influential union within Labour, is also supporting her - adding huge campaigning know-how to her bid.
View of Corbyn era
Seen as the “continuity Corbyn” candidate, she has said she would give the current leader 10/10. She has said Labour had a “great set of policies” at the election but got its presentation wrong.
Came close to backing government Brexit deals, but never actually cast a vote in favour. Was a leading figure opposed to a second referendum, and urged the party to back a soft Brexit.
Reviving Britain’s towns has been her focus. She has also criticised the party’s free broadband offer, stating that other policies such as better bus services could have more appeal.
Nandy has made a name for herself by campaigning on the need to do more to look after voters in Britain’s towns, which she says have been neglected.
The GMB union has backed her, a major coup for a candidate seen as the dark horse of the race. Also won the backing of Jess Phillips, who pulled out of the race.
View of Corbyn era
Backed Owen Smith’s leadership challenge against Corbyn in 2016. More recently, she has defended Corbyn, saying he did not deserve “to be trashed” by the media.
A leading figure in pushing Labour to back a second referendum before the election. However, he has now said that the debate about leaving is over.
Has said that the free-market economic model “has failed” and called for a more moral economy. Pushing for an EU deal that protects the economy, meaning close alignment.
Has built his campaign around uniting the party after years of division - and winning back the trust of voters.
Unison, Britain’s biggest union, has backed him, and he has been receiving a lot of support among Labour branches and MPs, establishing him as the frontrunner.
View of Corbyn era
Has warned the party not to “over-steer” away from Corbynism following the election result - seen as his attempt to win favour among the party’s pro-Corbyn membership.
Thornberry was a leading voice in the shadow cabinet backing the idea of a second referendum. She has said she would have campaigned for Remain.
Has said the rich do not pay enough tax and has vowed to put up rates for the wealthy. “Tax rates have gone down,” she has said. “I’d make them the average of the rich countries around the world.”
Taking on Johnson. She has described herself as the candidate best placed to “frighten the life out of” him at prime minister’s questions.
Has only just secured enough support from MPs to reach this stage. Now needs support from local Labour parties, but only three have backed her so far.
View of Corbyn era
Represents a neighbouring seat to Corbyn and has remained loyal to him, but criticised his decision to back an election before Brexit was resolved.