In December’s general election Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935 as Boris Johnson’s Conservative romped to victory.
Labour’s disastrous election included a complete wipe-out in North Staffordshire, a former party stronghold, as seats which had stayed red for decades turned blue.
Now party members are electing their new leader, following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to step down, and their choice will determine how – perhaps even if – the Labour comes back from its historic defeat.
Each of the three candidates – Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy – are offering something different, meaning the party has a clear choice over its future direction.
Ms Long-Bailey has been described as the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate, due to her support for the outgoing leader and similarly left-wing policies. The former solicitor and current Shadow Business Secretary has long been suggested as a possible successor to Mr Corbyn.
While Mr Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosections and the contest’s front-runner, has vowed to keep some Corbynite policies, such as increasing taxes on higher earners, he is seen by both supporters and opponents as representing a return to the moderate centre-left.
Ms Nandy, MP for Leave-voting Wigan, believes she is the best person to rebuild Labour’s support in these areas, and address the discontent that led voters to back Brexit in the first place.
To make it onto the final ballot, the candidates had to secure the support of five per cent of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).
Our local CLPs were evenly divided between the three candidates: Ms Long-Bailey received nominations from Stoke-on-Trent Central, Staffs Moorlands and Crewe & Nantwich; Ms Nandy had the backing of Stoke-on-Trent North, Newcastle and Congleton; while Mr Starmer was supported by Stoke-on-Trent South, Stone and Stafford.
City councillor Andy Platt is a supporter of Ms Long-Bailey. He said: “I think she’s very forward looking. For example, she did a lot of work on Labour’s Green New Deal over several years – one of the most disappointing things about the general election result is that we won’t see that.
“I also think it’s about time that we had a woman as leader. I think that is a really powerful argument in her favour.”
Mr Platt believes Ms Long-Bailey offers more than just a continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.
He added: “She’s her own person. She comes from a northern, working class background, the daughter of a docker on Barton Docks. I think that makes a big difference.”
Kyle Robinson, Labour group leader on Newcastle Borough Council, is among the local party members backing Mr Starmer. He believes Mr Starmer can restore confidence in the party.
Mr Robinson said: “Keir has been particularly supportive of Labour councillors, and wants to give us more of a say in future. I think it’s important that power is moved from Westminster so people in places like Newcastle and Kidsgrove have more say over what happens here.
“Keir looks like a leader and sounds like a leader. But he knows leadership means listening to people more, listening to people in communites like mine.”
Some opponents have queried whether a figure associated with the Remain side of the Brexit debate could lead the party to victory in Leave-voting areas like North Staffordshire.
But Mr Robinson does not think this is a handicap, now that Brexit has happened. He said: “There are still a lot of issues still to settle with Brexit. But the fact is that we’re leaving now, and Keir has said that if he is leader we won’t be campaigning to rejoin the EU.
“Labour has a lot of work to do to win back the voters it has lost. Whoever becomes leader has got a big challenge on their hands.”s
Labour members received their postal ballots on Monday, with voting set to continue until midday on April 2. The winner will be announced on April 4.