Ousted Labour lawmakers call for 'unflinching' review of Corbynism ahead of leadership battle

In a photo taken on Sept 24, British Labour Party MP Rebecca Long-Bailey speaks at the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, Britain. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, AP) - A group of politicians from Britain's opposition Labour Party have called for "fundamental change" within their party's leadership.

The comments follow a parliamentary election earlier this month that gave Labour its worst election defeat since 1935 and made pro-Brexit Prime Minister Boris Johnson the most electorally successful leader of the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher.

"We need to be honest about why our outgoing leadership's reflexive anti-Western world view was so unpopular, and address the reasons for that unpopularity," the 11-strong group of former Labour legislators and candidates wrote in a letter to the Observer newspaper on Sunday (Dec 29).

"Fundamental change at the top of our party is required," said the politicians, who include Mary Creagh, Emma Reynolds and Anna Turley, all of whom were from former Labour strongholds that voted Conservative in the election this month.

The group blamed Labour's lack of popularity with voters on "nationalisation and uncontrolled spending commitments," as well as "cronyism at the top of our party" and a "repeated unwillingness to stand up to the stain of anti-Semitism."

The letter highlighted the party's loss of seats "in every region.with the biggest swing against us from the poorest people."

After Labour's poor showing in the Dec 12 general election, left-wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he intended to step down.

The race to succeed Corbyn is exacerbating divisions in the party.

Though the formal process to pick a new leader isn't expected to begin until January, with an election likely in March, the jostling for support is well under way. The current frontrunner, Rebecca Long Bailey, is widely viewed as the current leadership's preferred choice having stood in for Corbyn at Prime Minister's Questions in June. She also ticks many party members' boxes as a young and media-savvy woman from a northern constituency.

Corbyn's allies are divided over whether Long Bailey, the shadow business secretary, has the broad appeal needed to win over the Labour membership, according to a report in the Sunday Times. The newspaper also said Ian Lavery, the party's pro-Brexit chairman, is considering running for the top job himself, which could split the Corbyn vote and boost the prospects of Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, who is significantly more pro-European than Corbyn's team.

Starmer has so far said only that he is "seriously considering" running for the leadership, though he has also set out his stall as a middle-ground candidate between the centrist leaning of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has urged a complete overhaul of the party, and the socialist views of Corbyn.

Starmer has also warned the party not to "oversteer" as a result of the election defeat, arguing that Labour should "build on" Corbyn's anti-austerity message and radical agenda.

Only Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, and Corbyn loyalist Clive Lewis have officially declared they are candidates, though neither is regarded as a frontrunner.

Another potential candidate is 38-year-old Jess Phillips, a strong critic of Corbyn despite sharing many of his left-leaning views. Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh wrote in the Sunday Times that Phillips has "got what it takes. She connects with people like no other."

The question for all the candidates will be how closely to stick to Corbyn's manifesto pledges, which included nationalisation of key utilities and the provision of free broadband to all UK households.

How to reshape the party's response to allegations of antisemitism that consistently undermined the party under Corbyn's leadership will also feature prominently.

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