It is fair to say that the Labour leadership contest has been a total nightmare for the left of the party. Rebecca Long-Bailey was the one to beat after Corbyn announced after the general election that he would resign at some point in the sort of near future. She was going to have Momentum and Unite backing her officially, Labour HQ and the NEC unofficially. Only if her campaign was monumentally bad would she be under serious threat.
It has gone much, much worse for Long-Bailey than anyone could have ever foreseen. Keir Starmer has done little to become the overwhelming favourite other than look good in a suit and not say anything stupid. It has been more than enough. It even started to look like a contest that threatened to be explosive was going to be dull in the end. Starmer would win, handily, and then slowly bring the party back to respectability. There would be the occasional bump, but no civil war.
That got blown to pieces this weekend with Labour HQ accusing the Starmer campaign of hacking into the Labour membership database and data scraping. This appears to be linked to a story around the Long-Bailey campaign having access to the party’s “Dialogue” phone bank system, which would have allowed not only the campaign but its volunteers access to sensitive information on all of Labour’s 500k members. Party HQ suspended this activity last week.
Now it is saying that Starmer’s campaign hacked into this same information, which smells distinctly dodgy given who runs Labour HQ. It appears to the casual observer like the Left is trying to use its sources of power to derail the Starmer campaign – and according to some rumours, possibly try and get Starmer kicked out of the leadership contest altogether.
I don’t think the outright Starmer exclusion will happen. It would essentially be putting a bomb under a weakened Labour Party and detonating it. If Long-Bailey became leader because Keir Starmer was forcibly removed from it for reasons that were opaque at best, then I don’t see how the Labour Party could ever recover. Not only would people walk away in their droves or a split occur, but even if every MP stayed in post, the party’s reputation would be permanently damaged. Long-Bailey’s leadership will have been fatally poisoned before it even started.
Yet even just having this row demonstrates the challenge facing Starmer if he becomes leader. The Left will clearly resort to anything they think they can get away with in order to cling to the levers of power within the Labour Party. Starmer’s goal of quietly pulling the party back to sanity has been shown to be almost impossible; the tankies will not go easily or without a fight.
This means that Keir will have to spend way more time fighting internal battles than he would have hoped. Whatever the end result of this Labour in-fight, one thing is for sure: the Conservatives’ grip on power just became a little tighter.