In the end it wasn’t even close. Keir Starmer won the Labour leadership election with 56.2 per cent of the vote in the first round. His closest rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, secured less than half as many votes, and Lisa Nandy came third with just over 16 per cent. This was not a wafer-thin victory over his Corbynite opponent. It was a resounding mandate to lead.
The numbers really do matter. Starmer was only a few percentage points away from Jeremy Corbyn’s 59.5 per cent share in the 2015 leadership election, and polled almost 25,000 more votes. It was perhaps predictable that 79 per cent of new registered supporters endorsed him, but 56 per cent of paid-up members did as well—the same group which so enthusiastically supported Corbyn. In contrast, Long-Bailey—Corbyn’s preferred successor—won fewer affiliated members than Nandy, and polled 60,000 fewer votes than Owen Smith did in 2016. (Although to be fair there were only two candidates in that race.) The same trend was seen with Richard Burgon in the deputy leadership contest. Endorsed by prominent Corbynites such as John McDonnell, he only achieved 21.3 per cent of the vote—behind Rosena Allin-Khan and the winner (with 52.6 per cent) Angela Rayner, a unifying figure who drew support from across the party.
At the start of this race the consensus predicted exactly the opposite result. One former member of the shadow cabinet told me that Labour was entirely in the control of the hard left, and nobody from outside Corbyn’s inner circle would ever win. They were wrong. Corbyn and Long-Bailey were in fact not “hard left” by any continental European standards, but the Labour membership was also far less ideological than its erstwhile leaders. The general election was not just a humbling defeat but a profound shock. Labour accepted that something had to change. Starmer emerged as the most pragmatic and electable candidate, and the party faithful chose him.
Starmer will have months to shape his message, but first impressions are key. His victory statement was therefore vital in setting out the early tone—and probably succeeded. He spoke of the human cost of the virus, mentioning how families were “unable even to carry out the most poignant of ceremonies, a funeral, in the way that they would…