Rebecca Long-Bailey has publicly called on her rivals in the Labour leadership race to support a pledge to build more council homes, as the battle to succeed Jeremy Corbyn began to take on a more personal tone in the run-up to the vote.
With members’ ballots due to start arriving on Monday, Long-Bailey used a speech in Peterborough to argue that a promise to build at least 100,000 local authority homes for social rent per year would help “lay the foundations of aspirational socialism”.
A close ally of the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, the Salford MP and shadow business secretary has been groomed as a potential leftwing contender for the top job.
The Wigan MP has built a reputation as a campaigner for her constituency and others like it, many of which have fallen to the Tories. A soft-left candidate, she resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2016 over Corbyn’s leadership and handling of the EU referendum.
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She said: “So if you want millions of people to realise their dream of a secure, quality home in their community that doesn’t cost the earth and you want Labour to proudly argue for a council house building boom, then I’m your woman.”
A press release about the speech noted that while Long-Bailey had backed this idea, it was not included in a list of 10 pledges released by Sir Keir Starmer – widely seen as the favourite to win the contest.
A spokesman for Starmer said he had “set out his commitment to a new generation of council and social homes in every community”, and that he had been nominated for leader by the Labour Housing Group, the affiliated party organisation focusing on the subject.
The challenge to Starmer and the third candidate, Lisa Nandy, highlights what some in Labour argue is the start of a more personal approach to the contest from Long-Bailey’s camp, and more particularly from some of her allies on the left of the party.
In recent days, Starmer has faced a series of direct attacks from Long-Bailey’s backers. A social media video by a Corbynite news website, Novara Media, accused Starmer of coming from a “shifty, evasive” strain of Labour politics, and of stoking “rightwing moral panics” as director of public prosecutions.
Nandy’s team has publicly expressed its annoyance at Momentum, the left-leaning Labour faction backing Long-Bailey, for saying Long-Bailey was “the only leadership candidate” who opposed a 2015 bill on welfare cuts – when at the time Nandy was on maternity leave.
While one ally of Nandy described this as “a really low tactic”, they said they did not blame Long-Bailey personally for personal attacks. “This does seem to have intensified in the last few days,” they said, “but it mainly comes from her more excitable supporters.”
A source in the Starmer campaign said: “It’s up to them what they do. We are running a very positive campaign and trying to bring the party together.”
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.
Supporters of Long-Bailey have sought to portray her rivals as financed by rich donors, with the party chair, Ian Lavery, tweeting that he was “astounded at the apparent huge corporate donations” to some campaigns.
On Friday, Momentum launched an appeal for £45 donations from supporters to finance “a laser-guided viral video ad” to send to every Labour member, in an attempt counter a mass mailshot from Starmer.
However, one Long-Bailey ally rejected the idea that the tone was becoming negative. “It’s completely legitimate that the other candidates are subjected to proper scrutiny of their records,” they said.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Anyway, if you look at the Democrat primaries in the US, this is all very mild stuff by comparison.”