In Depth

BBC Labour leadership debate: what we learned

Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry clashed on anti-Semitism and Brexit

The Labour leader contenders set out their stalls on a special edition of Newsnight last night ahead of the impending membership vote.

Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry are all competing to replace Jeremy Corbyn. The winning candidate will have to try to bring the party back from a historically bad election result and restore a reputation damaged by accusations of anti-Semitism.

The Guardian says all the candidates have adopted at least part of the 2019 manifesto, so policy differences between them have been “relatively modest” so far. Instead, they have sought to differentiate themselves on matters of “internal party democracy”.

Nandy, Starmer and Long-Bailey are all guaranteed spots on the ballot paper when the vote by Labour members opens on 21 February. Thornberry still has to secure 33 Constituency Labour Party nominations.

Anti-Semitism

The issue that has overshadowed much of Corbyn’s leadership also dominated last night’s debate. According to the BBC, Thornberry landed a much-needed “zinger” when she criticised Long-Bailey’s track record on tackling anti-Semitism, while the Guardian calls it “some of the liveliest exchanges”.

Thornberry said she had “regularly called out anti-Semitism” in Labour and added that, in the shadow cabinet, she and Starmer had asked for “regular reports” on the issue. Asked if Long-Bailey had done the same, Thornberry said: “No, I don’t think Rebecca did.”

Long-Bailey replied: “I did, I think you’ll find.” Thornberry replied, sharply: “Sorry, I don’t remember.”

All four candidates said they would challenge anti-Semitism in the party, apologised for it and agreed they would sign up to the ten pledges proposed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews to tackle racism.

Brexit

Starmer, seen as the key Remain candidate, was at pains to deny that he had been the architect of Labour’s Brexit policy. Corbyn’s pledge to hold a second referendum on EU membership, in which Labour would stay neutral, has been damned by his critics as falling flat with voters fed up with the issue.

Starmer was forced on the defensive last night, insisting other members of the shadow cabinet, including Long-Bailey, had also signed up to it, notes the Guardian.

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Renationalisation and tuition fees

Nandy became the candidate putting the most clear water between herself and Corbyn’s regime when she criticised plans to renationalise industries and infrastructure, and the pledge to scrap university tuition fees.

The Wigan MP said: “People are smarter than we think. We can’t go round as a party promising to nationalise everything, to get rid of tuition fees, when we haven’t got a clue how we would do it, or how we would pay for it.”

This did not play well with former Labour policy chief Andrew Fisher, the Guardian says. He tweeted later it was “nauseating” to hear a Labour MP say this when, in fact, all the policy ideas were “fully costed in 2017 and 2019”.

Starmer has pledged to stick with the plan introduced under Corbyn to scrap tuition fees.

Private schools

The Daily Telegraph notes that the candidates all agreed they would drop Corbyn’s policy of scrapping private schools – the 2019 Labour manifesto included a pledge to “integrate all private schools into the state sector”.

The four candidates have all also said they would abandon Labour plans to bring in a four-day working week nationally, the Telegraph adds.

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