Voting closes in Labour leadership race overshadowed by coronavirus outbreak
The three candidates to be Labour leader will find out the results of the contest on Saturday (PA)
The ballot has closed in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in a contest overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Party bosses will announce on Saturday who has won the lengthy contest.
But it will be done via email rather than the planned special conference, which was scrapped as the outbreak intensified.
Sir Keir Starmer is the strong favourite to see off the challenge of Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy.
In a video message to his supporters released as ballots closed at noon, he said: "It's been a long campaign and it's ending in circumstances that none of us could have predicted.
“But we've kept it positive, we’ve demonstrated unity, and people have gone over and beyond and I'm genuinely so thankful for everything you've put in.”
The Shadow Brexit Secretary added: “With the campaigns that Rebecca and Lisa have run, and that we’ve run, I think we’ve demonstrated to our party, to our movement, and hopefully to the country that real good can come out of this election.
“Thank you again so much. Please stay safe, stay well, stay inside if you can. Massive thanks.”
Ms Nandy also released a video thanking supporters, saying: “In every nation and region of the UK, we stood up, came together and chose the brave, not the easy path.
“And we have shown Labour to be a party that has both humility and self-confidence. Honest about the scale of the challenge and ambitious about the future.
“That goes out with courage and conviction to make and win the argument – especially when it’s hard. That will be how Labour wins again.
“And while we won’t know the outcome of the contest until Saturday, I hope you already know that we have changed this party – together.”
The contest was triggered after Mr Corbyn announced he was standing down in the wake of December’s general election, when Labour slumped to its worst performance since 1935.
Ballots were sent out in the middle of February, when the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK was still in single figures.
But since then the contest has been overshadowed by the measures introduced by the Government to prevent the spread of the disease.
Hustings and other events in the leadership race, as well as the contest to become deputy leader - which is running concurrently - have been cancelled since social distancing policies were introduced.
Labour's new deputy leader, who will succeed Tom Watson, will also be announced at the same time on Saturday.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner has long been the favourite ahead of rivals Dawn Butler, Ian Murray, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan and Richard Burgon.
Mr Murray, Labour's only MP in Scotland, said: "Prior to the coronavirus lockdown I travelled to dozens of towns and cities across Britain to listen to members who are desperate for Labour to change.
“Whatever happens on Saturday, the Labour Party must listen to the voters, reach out to the country and regain people’s trust. Only that way will we become electable again."
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