Inside the Labour leadership campaigns: who is running the show?

15 January 2020

9:10 PM

15 January 2020

9:10 PM

Now that the second phase of the Labour leadership contest is underway, the five candidates are finalising their campaign teams. Some of them, of course, have had some kind of infrastructure running for a good long while before the December election was even called. Others are just announcing their big hires and co-chairs now. Here’s who is working on each campaign, and what the line-up says about the pitch their candidate is making.

Keir Starmer

Jenny Chapman is the chair. She is the former MP for Darlington, in a nod to the importance of winning back seats Labour had formerly considered its heartlands. Her analysis of the election result is that Labour only pitched to ‘about a third of the electorate and those people that live in cities who are fairly well-off people’. She is generally well-liked across the Labour Party, though there have been tensions in the past year or so between her and those campaigning for a second referendum. Along with other Labour whips, she referred to People’s Vote MPs including Chuka Umunna as ‘shinies’.

David Lammy and Carolyn Harris are serving as vice-chairs of the campaign. Lammy will appeal to the left of the party, while Harris is generally well-liked across the board.

Simon Fletcher is the strategic campaign adviser, having previously worked as campaigns director and chief of staff to Jeremy Corbyn. His hire has been widely read as Starmer pitching to reunite the party’s warring factions. He is also highly-rated even by MPs who strongly disagreed with Corbyn.

Another ex-Corbyn staffer is Kat Fletcher, who will be director of field. She worked on the Corbyn campaign in 2015 before moving into the Leader of the Opposition’s office and then working as deputy director of the Labour Party. She is very much of the Left, having previously been a member of the Trotskyist group the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

The other side of this symbolic reuniting of the party comes from Morgan McSweeney, who is Starmer’s campaign manager. He worked on Liz Kendall’s leadership campaign in 2015, though that shouldn’t be held against him as everyone who has worked with him says he is smart and highly able. He had also worked with Lisa Nandy in the Labour Together group, which is now running a review of the 2019 election loss.

Other staff include: Chris Ward as deputy campaign manager, who has been Starmer’s political adviser since 2016 and Ben Nunn as director of communications, who has also worked for Starmer since 2017. Ellie Robinson is the head of stakeholder engagement, having done the same job for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Lisa Nandy

Nandy is also keen to assert her credentials as someone who can bring the party back together, making Louise Haigh who was a frontbencher under Corbyn her campaign chair. Haigh and Lewisham MP Vicky Foxcroft did a huge amount of the legwork in getting parliamentary support for Nandy and some of the candidate’s allies think she would have struggled to get over the nominations threshold without this help, as she has not been as present in parliament over the past few years as some of her rivals and therefore lacks the MP base. Haigh is described by colleagues as a ‘former Corbynite who saw the light’, but she is also rated by Conservatives who have worked with her.

Luke Francis is the campaign manager, having previously worked on Sadiq Khan’s Mayoral campaign. He also has what must be the unusual accolade of being described on a student journalism blog as a ‘tall, strikingly handsome, bearded guy with endless charm’. Those who’ve worked with him in Westminster seem to agree with the ‘charm’, saying he’s a ‘nice guy’ who works hard and is of a soft left persuasion.

Matthew McGregor is a senior adviser and worked on digital strategy in the 2012 Obama campaign. This is his high point, the low being that he was also the ‘digital attack dog’ who was supposed to help Ed Miliband win the 2015 election. He appeared to have moved on from party politics after that, working for anti-racism group Hope Not Hate.

In fact, one thing that links many of Nandy’s hires is that many of them were around in the Miliband era. John Miles was also in the digital team in the Labour Party in 2014-15 and is now running digital strategy for the candidate. A lot of her support comes from Miliband-esque MPs, and her team reflects that. Her former adviser from her time in the shadow energy brief Joss Garman has also returned to run media relations for her campaign.

Other staffers include Carys Afoko, who founded the feminist campaign Level Up and will travel as a special adviser with her on the campaign trail. Tim Dexter worked for the People’s Vote campaign and is now operations director.

Jess Phillips

Phillips has also chosen to make a point about the scale of Labour’s challenge by appointing former Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn as the co-chair of her campaign alongside Wes Streeting. Onn was furious with Jeremy Corbyn after her election loss as the Labour leader failed to contact her to say sorry and check she was OK. One MP who did get in touch with her – and many others who lost their seats too – was Phillips. Her verdict after the campaign was that her party had stopped listening to communities like hers, and that Labour needs to ‘start speaking the real language’ of the voters who rejected the party in December. Streeting is a very vocal MP who was one of the key figures in the ‘stay-and-fight’ camp when talk of a Labour split ran high. He has been outspoken on anti-Semitism and was close to many of the MPs who lost their seats in the election including Ruth Smeeth, who is running stakeholder engagement for the campaign.

Phillips has, perhaps not unsurprisingly, appointed a lot of women to her campaign. Her supporters insist that there was never really a formal drive for a strong gender balance, more that the Birmingham Yardley MP is just close to a lot of Labour women. Her campaign director is Labour peer Alicia Kennedy, who was previously chief of staff to Tom Watson, who was the key ‘stay-and-fight’ proponent. Phillips’ campaign is partly aimed at those who felt in recent years that they could no longer bear being in Labour, and these appointments underline her plan to change that.

Rachel Kinnock will oversee visits and campaign events and is an ex-Miliband era staffer. She is well-respected by those who worked with her during that time, as is Caroline Badley who is heading up operations and who ran Phillips’ campaign to oust Liberal Democrat John Hemming in Birmingham Yardley in 2015.

The field team will be run by Matt Goddin, who has worked for Streeting, helping to win the Ilford North seat in 2015 when conventional wisdom was that Labour couldn’t beat the Tories there. He will be supported by Steph Lloyd, who is ex-Progress and very active in a number of different Labour circles and admired by many, not least for her rather relaxed way of taking down a fellow broadcast interviewee who tried to claim that Militant helped working people (friends say she should be sent out to do more broadcast for Phillips). Rania Ramli, chair of Labour Students, will also work on the field team, which shows that Phillips’ team is very focused on organisation – and is also trying to win back the support of an organisation alienated after the party’s National Executive Committee voted to wind it down.
Political strategy will be the preserve of Francis Grove-White, who formerly worked in Labour HQ, especially on European policy, before moving to the People’s Vote campaign. The Phillips campaign have repeatedly denied claims that his colleague at the People’s Vote Tom Baldwin is also working with them. But there is still a strong pro-Remain strand in the team: Will Straw, who ran the losing Stronger In campaign in the 2016 referendum is an adviser. A figure from a winning campaign is Blair McDougall, who was chief strategist at Better Together in the 2014 Scottish referendum (though if you’ve read Joe Pike’s excellent book, Project Fear, you’ll know that he received mixed reviews in this role), and will also be an adviser. This is the only hire so far from any of the candidates that acknowledges the party’s need to win again in Scotland.

Working on press are Amy Richards, who worked on Yvette Cooper’s 2015 campaign and is well-known for being fiercely loyal and efficient, and Adam McNicholas, who has worked for the party on various campaigns and was political advisor to Tristram Hunt when he was shadow education secretary.

Rebecca Long-Bailey

If you were in any doubt about where Long-Bailey is pitching herself, look no further than her head of communications Matt Zarb-Cousin. He did press for Corbyn when he was Labour leader and maintained a pro-Corbyn presence on social media too. But he was also respected in the lobby for trying his best to professionalise the Corbyn media operation and to brief publications that many around the Labour leader couldn’t be bothered with. The campaign hasn’t yet announced its parliamentary chairs.

Andrew Towers is director of policy, having previously worked as head of political strategy at the Communication Workers Union. The most controversial appointment so far is Joe Bradley as director of organising. He is what insiders describe as a divisive figure, and was responsible for trade union and NEC relations within the leader of the opposition’s office. A Momentum-ite, he was pushed out of LOTO at the same time as Corbyn’s senior aide Karie Murphy when John McDonnell succeeded in getting a shake-up of the leader’s team. He got into trouble a year ago for accusing Labour MPs campaigning for a second referendum of wanting a Tory government.

Emily Thornberry

The campaign has not yet confirmed any positions, presumably because Thornberry and her supporters have been so busy trying to ensure she gets through to the next round. One of her key backers in parliament is Fabian Hamilton, who has been her colleague on the shadow Foreign Office brief, and who was instrumental in rounding up MPs in the final hours before Monday’s deadline for nominations. While Thornberry has some interpersonal problems with MPs, Hamilton is popular in the parliamentary Labour party and has a very kindly and warm manner.

She also has her adviser Damian McBride of Power Trip spin doctor fame (he was nicknamed McPoison while working for Gordon Brown but has since reformed his act), and Sophie Traves, who is handling her press.

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