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LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Rebecca Long Bailey – faltering frontrunner wrestles with 'continuity Corbyn' label

LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Rebecca Long Bailey – faltering frontrunner wrestles with 'continuity Corbyn' label
6 min read

Amid struggles with her “continuity Corbyn” label, the former frontrunner appeared to be faltering until her campaign finally kicked into gear this week.

The Shadow Business Secretary has been seemingly groomed for the top job over the past year, and with Laura Pidcock losing her seat last month she seemed sure to be the left’s anointed one after the departure of Jeremy Corbyn.

But in the immediate aftermath of the general election, the Salford and Eccles MP was virtually anonymous, initially putting her head above the parapet only to publish a milquetoast Guardian article which was widely-derided for the use of the phrase “progressive patriotism”.

Into the vacuum stepped Sir Keir Starmer, who made his pitch for the top job by playing up his own left-wing credentials.

There were even questions about whether she really wanted the job, leading to calls from the Corbynite wing of the party for party chairman Ian Lavery to enter the race.

Everything changed, however, when Lavery announced he would be backing Long Bailey, who then confirmed she was running in a tub-thumping article for the left-wing Tribune magazine.

It capped an important day for the shadow frontbencher, after her flatmate and potential rival Angela Rayner confirmed she was running for deputy and would be backing Long Bailey for the leadership.

Her Tribune article was striking in that not only did she seem to embrace her role as the heir to Corbyn with a full-throated support for his policies, it failed to mention either Brexit or Labour's well-documented problems with anti-semitism.

She followed that up with an assured performance on the Today programme, teeing up a potential run-off against bookies' favourite Sir Keir.

A relative latecomer to both politics and the wider Labour movement - only joining the party in 2010 - she lacks the backstory of the man she hopes to succeed, and the experience in public life of some of her rivals.

If she was to win she will have been a party member and MP for a shorter time than any Labour leader since its founder Keir Hardie in 1906.

But there is more to her than she gets given credit for, and monikers such as “Wrong-Daily” are wide of the mark.

Born on 22 September, 1979, in Stretford, Greater Manchester, Long Bailey is the daughter of Irish parents, and says her outlook was shaped by her father Jimmy’s time as a Salford docker and trade union representative.

She has talked of watching him “worrying when round after round of redundancies were inflicted” and being “forced to witness his friends empty lockers into bin liners after decades of service”.

But she had to clarify those comments after The Sunday Times revealed Salford’s docks closed in 1982 when she was just two, saying her father worked at the Shell dock in Barton.

A devout Roman Catholic who prays daily, she has spoken often about how its teachings influence the policies she creates, saying “my faith is often the only thing that keeps me going”.

After attending a church school herself, the married mother-of-one said: "I am Catholic and I have no doubt that my Catholic education instilled the moral values in me to care and look after the people around me, as we all should.

“It was a vital part of my spiritual and moral journey growing up and that is why I now send my child to a Catholic school so that he can also have that spiritual support and guidance from our community as he grows up."


Her first job was in a pawn shop aged 16, followed by stints in a sofa factory, a Royal Mail sorting office and a bar before she studied politics and sociology at university in Manchester.

Later qualifying as a solicitor, she specialised in commercial law and practised for more than a decade before former Blairite minister Hazel Blears announced she was standing down at the 2015 election.

Thanks to the backing of powerful union Unite, Long Bailey was part of an all-woman shortlist in the seat, and was duly selected before holding onto the seat with a much-increased majority of 12,500.

She initially backed Andy Burnham in the contest to replace Ed Miliband as Labour leader, but once Corbyn announced he was standing she switched her support, and was one of the 36 MPs who nominated him.

She was rewarded for her loyalty by being made a shadow Treasury minister less than a week after Corbyn’s victory, and Hilary Benn was bumped off Labour’s National Executive Committee to make way for her soon after.

That brought her into John McDonnell’s team, who she has worked closely alongside since, being promoted to Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in June 2016.

The Shadow Chancellor has been one of her most prominent backers, referring to her as “my Becky”, and has helped push her credentials as the likely successor to Corbyn.

That role was cemented after Emily Thornberry was unceremoniously shunted to one side to give her a chance at Prime Minister’s Questions last June, and she stood in for the Labour leader during one of the TV election debates last month.

Elsewhere in the election as other shadow ministers were hidden away from reporters she was one of the leader’s office’s most-trusted media surrogates, regularly doing broadcast rounds to both announce policy and fend off attacks.

But the 40-year-old is keen to be seen as her own woman, distinct from Corbyn and his time in office, declaring to Sky News she is "nobody's continuity candidate".

However when asked later the same day by ITV how she would rate Corbyn as a leader out of ten she said: “I'd give him 10 out of 10.”

And on how she was different from the incumbent, she could only think to say they were “different in the way we speak, different in tone”, unable to point to any policy changes she would make.

This shows the inherent problem of being the preferred candidate of the ruling section of the party after it has lost the last two elections, the most recent one by a huge margin.

She cannot distance herself from a manifesto she just stood in since, as she she rightly points out, she helped write it.

Seen as shy within the Parliamentary party, Long Bailey's support is likely to come from the Labour membership rather than her fellow MPs.

But this will not be a hindrance, given she is likely to win the backing of both Momentum (whose founder Jon Lansman is an adviser to her campaign) and the powerful Unite union.

Whether she can convince enough of the Labour selectorate to stick with Corbynism for a third consecutive election remains to be seen.


  • Age: 40
  • Constituency: Salford and Eccles
  • Positions held: Shadow Minister for the Treasury (2015-16), Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (2016-17), Shadow Business Secretary (2017-present)
  • Fun fact: Since they were elected in 2015 she has shared a flat in London with Angela Rayner
  • Odds: 5/2


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