Keir Starmer has emerged as an early frontrunner in the Labour Party leadership race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn after a poll of members suggested he was the first choice in all regions of the UK, age groups and social classes.
The shadow Brexit secretary is yet to formally launch his campaign but is expected to do so in the first few weeks of the new year. The new leader will be elected in March after Mr Corbyn said he would step down following the party’s catastrophic general election defeat.
Polling by YouGov for the Party Members Project put Mr Starmer as winning with a 61 per cent vote share to 39 per cent for the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, in the last round.
Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's parliamentary Labour party, who has yet to declare if she is running, was the third most popular choice among members, who were surveyed between December 20th and 30th.
The results at this preliminary stage suggest that the winner is unlikely to come from the left of the party, according to Prof Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London, who jointly ran the poll with the University of Sussex.
“This is not shaping up to be a 2015-style Labour leadership contest. Unless potential candidates drop out before the start of voting, it may take a few rounds to decide the winner this time around.
“But it doesn’t look at the moment as if the winner will come from the left of the party. Right now anyway, Keir Starmer looks to be heading for a fairly emphatic victory,” he said.
So far only the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, and the shadow treasury minister, Clive Lewis, have officially said they want to run to be the next Labour leader.
Ms Phillips, who represents Birmingham Yardley, and the Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy, are expected to stand while the former Labour minister and home affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, is understood to be weighing up her options as to whether she will vie for the leadership for a second time.
The party chairman and Corbyn ally Ian Lavery – who lambasted the party's performance for their muddled stance on Brexit – might also run. A former National Union of Mineworkers chair who supports leaving the EU, he would be the most left-wing of all the potential candidates.
The poll will be interesting reading for all those who said they were using the Christmas break to decide whether to launch official campaigns and gain the signatures of MPs needed to get on the ballot.
In the survey of 1,059 Labour party members, 31 per cent put Mr Starmer as their first-choice candidate, 20 per cent backed Ms Long Bailey as their favourite, Ms Phillips received 11 per cent and Mr Lewis and Ms Cooper were the first choice for 7 per cent of surveyed members. Ms Thornberry was on 6 per cent and Ms Nandy was on 5 per cent.
With the "don't knows" removed from the survey and numbers put through a simulated leadership vote, Prof Bale and Prof Paul Webb of the University of Sussex found Mr Starmer beat Ms Long Bailey in the last round by 61 per cent to 39 per cent.
In the simulation, Ms Phillips was knocked out in the penultimate round with 18 per cent of the vote. Ms Cooper made it through to the fourth round. Ms Nandy and Ms Thornberry were the first to be knocked out.
The Leave-Remain split may impact on the eventual vote as Ms Long Bailey is ranked first by just 19 per cent of Labour members who voted Remain in 2016 but by 31 per cent of those who voted leave.
Ms Starmer, on the other hand, is ranked first by only 17 per cent of leavers but by 34 per cent of remainers. The majority of party members are remainers, which may work in his favour in an actual vote.
There is little difference between the popularity of the candidates between men and women, although Ms Long Bailey is fractionally more popular among male members.
"It certainly doesn't look as if Labour's members are necessarily persuaded that it's time the party had a female leader. They seem more interested in picking the best person for the job, irrespective of gender," said Bale, who co-wrote Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st century with Webb and Monica Poletti.
Mr Starmer is also shown in the survey to be more popular than Ms Long Bailey in all age groups but particularly with those aged over 60. He also was more popular with middle-class members by 14 percentage points over Ms Long Bailey.
Much of the reflection among members after the election has been on whether Labour needs someone from the north of England to reconnect to voters in former heartland seats that fell to the Tories.
However, the most northern of all the MPs – Lisa Nandy – does not seem any more popular among Labour members living in the north than with those in other UK regions.
Labour’s northern members seem to be just as keen as members from other parts of the country on Mr Starmer, who represents Holborn and St Pancras in north London.
Scottish members were shown to much prefer Mr Starmer to Ms Long Bailey, who polled at 11 per cent compared with Mr Starmer’s 42 per cent.
The survey of 1,059 Labour members, weighted by age, gender and region, was commissioned from YouGov by the Party Members Project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and run by Prof Tim Bale (Queen Mary University of London) and Prof Paul Webb (University of Sussex). – Guardian