The Labour Leadership Contest 2020: Lisa Nandy
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has been tipped for the Labour leadership position in several contests, even being urged by left-wing commentator Owen Jones to run in 2015. She declined and endorsed Andy Burnham instead, going on to steer Owen Smith’s unsuccessful leadership challenge in 2016. Writing in the Wigan Post earlier this month, Nandy finally put her hat in the ring for the 2020 Labour leadership election, vowing to “bring Labour home” to voters that had abandoned the party in traditional Labour heartlands.
With 31 Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) nominations, she has cleared the first hurdle in the leadership contest. Now she needs to win nominations from 5 per cent of constituency Labour parties (33 in total) or three affiliates, in order to get through to the final stage, the ballot of members. Both of those may prove tricky; a recent YouGov poll found that Nandy was the first choice of just 6 per cent of members, and one of the ‘big four’ affiliated unions has already endorsed Kier Starmer. However, Nandy has received the backing of new MP Sarah Owen, who was until last month the Political Officer for the GMB union – another of the big four. This may augur the formal support of the GMB in the next stage.
Nandy is well-liked across the spectrum of the Labour party, despite being critical of the party’s leadership under Jeremy Corbyn, particularly over its handling of antisemitism, which she said was a “collective failure of the leadership” and had “disgraced [the] party.” Her consistent championing of the needs of British towns has become internet meme fodder, but her supporters believe her message could win back working-class voters who defected to the Conservative party in the 2019 general election. If elected, Nandy will become the party’s first female and first Asian leader.
The daughter of an English mother and Indian father, Lisa Nandy was born and raised in Manchester but later moved to nearby Bury with her mother. Politics featured heavily in her family life; her father Dipak Nandy helped draft the Race Relations Act 1976, and her maternal grandfather was a Liberal party MP.
After studying at Newcastle and Birkbeck, Nandy worked as a Parliamentary researcher for Labour MP Neil Gerrard, before moving into the charity sector, first to homelessness charity Centrepoint, then to The Children’s Society, where she specialised in child refugees. She was also an adviser to the Independent Asylum Commission and the Children’s Commissioner for England. In 2006, she was elected as a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham, and later became cabinet member for the Housing portfolio.
Nandy was elected as MP for Wigan, a Labour safe seat, in 2010, becoming the constituency’s first female MP and one of the first Asian female MPs in Parliament. Nandy was fast-tracked to the frontbench, first becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, before being promoted to Shadow Children’s Minister in 2012 and then to Shadow Charities Minister in 2013.
Despite supporting Andy Burnham in the 2015 Labour leadership contest, Nandy was promoted to Shadow Energy Secretary by Jeremy Corbyn following his election as leader. But after the EU referendum, she joined dozens of other shadow ministers in resigning from the Labour frontbench amidst growing criticism of Corbyn’s leadership. She was approached by several colleagues to stand against Jeremy Corbyn in the 2016 leadership election, but declined to do so having just given birth to her son. She instead co-chaired Owen Smith’s unsuccessful campaign.
Although she backed Remain during the EU referendum, Nandy has been a vocal critic of Labour’s second referendum Brexit stance, believing that it alienated voters in Leave-supporting areas such as Wigan. In October 2018, Nandy was one of nineteen Labour MPs who broke a three-line whip to vote for Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill. A decision she took, she claimed, over a desire to end the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.
Nandy has vociferously campaigned on the needs of British towns, believing that they have been short-changed when it comes to government investment. In 2018, Nandy set up Centre for Towns, which has published research suggesting that the housing crisis has been fuelled by a lack of suitable housing, transport and digital infrastructure for older people in small towns, in favour of younger people in cities. Nandy recently called for local councils to be given the power to set up their own bus services, so they could be run “for people, not for profit.”
Launching her campaign in a letter in the Wigan Post, Nandy has focused her campaign on winning over ‘left behind’ towns and regions. She has said that she has a “duty” to provide a “different sort of leadership” for voters who wanted to take back “control” over their own lives. She has called for seismic change within the Labour party and has vowed to end in-fighting and focus on consensus-building.
13 January 2020 | Emily MacPherson-Smith