LONDON – Britain’s opposition Labour Party said Monday that five lawmakers will contend to lead the party as it tries to rebuild support and regain power after last month's electoral drubbing.
Labour is choosing a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn, who is stepping down after the left-of-center party suffered its worst election result in almost a century.
The party said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry had all met the threshold of securing nominations from at least 22 Labour lawmakers and would advance to the next stage of the contest. A sixth contender, Clive Lewis, dropped out after failing to get enough backers.
Labour is one of Britain’s two dominant political parties, but hasn’t won a national election since Tony Blair's third consecutive victory in 2005. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won 365 of the 650 House of Commons seats in the Dec. 12 election, while Labour took 203, its worst total since 1935.
The party is enmeshed in a blame game for the defeat, with some members accusing the socialist Corbyn of veering too far to the left and making lavish spending promises that voters regarded as unrealistic.
Labour is also agonizing over its Brexit stance -- which tried unsuccessfully to satisfy voters who wanted to leave the European Union and those who wished to remain -- and continuing claims of anti-Semitism in party ranks.
All five contenders are calculating how far to distance themselves from Corbyn, whose left-wing approach retains strong support among rank-and-file Labour members, many of whom have joined the party since he was elected leader.
Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, received by far the most backing among Labour lawmakers, with 89 nominating him. The next-highest total was 33 for Long-Bailey, a Corbyn protégé and the party’s business spokeswoman.
But Starmer, a relative centrist, may struggle to win over party members wary of a return to the middle-of-the-road “new Labour” of the Blair era.
Some of the five candidates could be eliminated if they can’t win the required backing from local Labour associations and trade unions. Those who make the cut will be put to a postal vote of the party’s half-million members and registered supporters between Feb. 21 and April 2. The party’s new leader will be announced on April 4.
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