LONDON: Voting in the contest to replace veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as Britain’s main opposition Labour leader ended on Thursday with the result set to be announced this weekend.
Labour members, said to number more than half a million, voted in the marathon leadership battle seen as a fight for the ideological soul of the party.
The contest began in January after Labour slumped to a stinging defeat in December elections but has been overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis outbreak in recent weeks.
Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman and a former chief state prosecutor popular with moderates, has been the frontrunner.
He won the support of the majority of Labour members of parliament and some key trade unions.
His main rival is Labour’s business spokeswoman, Rebecca Long-Bailey, a close ally of Corbyn who has promised to pursue his socialist agenda.
She secured the backing of the influential left-wing activist group Momentum, which grew out of grass-roots support for Corbyn in 2015.
Backbench MP Lisa Nandy also made it through to the final round of voting, but is seen as a long-shot.
The contest was sparked by Corbyn’s resignation in the wake of Labour’s worst general election result in decades.
In an online conference call with his campaign team and volunteers on Thursday, Starmer predicted his victory would resurrect the 120-year-old party.
Labour was last period in power began under the leadership of former prime minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007, when finance minister Gordon Brown took over until 2010.
“We get the chance to rebuild our party and our movement and, more importantly than that, the chance to put Labour where it needs to be back, which is back in power,” Starmer said. “Saturday is a massive, massive step towards that.”
Voting has taken place by postal ballot from Feb 21, after Labour lawmakers whittled down the number of candidates to the final three.
Due to the social distancing measures in place to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, the party cancelled an event to announce the winner.
Instead, the result will be announced on its website at 0945 GMT on Saturday, with each candidate having pre-recorded a victory speech.
After Conservative leader Boris Johnson’s emphatic victory, another election is not due for almost five years.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020