Who might replace Labour’s Corbyn and how have they responded to anti-Semitism?
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Who might replace Labour’s Corbyn and how have they responded to anti-Semitism?

After failure of UK opposition party under hard-left leader, MPs vie to succeed him; they include anti-Israel Emily Thornberry and Labour Friends of Israel member Jess Phillips

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, walking along the promenade, arrives for the Labour Party Conference at the Brighton Centre in Brighton, England, September 21, 2019. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, walking along the promenade, arrives for the Labour Party Conference at the Brighton Centre in Brighton, England, September 21, 2019. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

After suffering two defeats in his bid to become Britain’s prime minister, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not lead the party at the next election.

Corbyn has been accused of failing to deal with incidents of anti-Semitism within his party, with many saying the Labour Party has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Corbyn, a hard-left, pro-Palestinian politician who was elected to lead the party in 2015.

Here are candidates currently tipped to replace him.

Keir Starmer

The narrow favorite in the race would represent a shift back towards the center ground for the party after its move to the left under the veteran socialist Corbyn.

Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions in England and Wales, became an MP in 2015 and has served as shadow Brexit minister for three years, using his legal expertise to hold the government to account over its plans.

Britain’s opposition Labour party Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Keir Starmer delivers a speech at their election campaign event on Brexit in Harlow, England, November 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

He is popular among the anti-Brexit and centrist factions of his party, but is less liked among those new members attracted to the party by Corbyn’s radicalism.

The 57-year-old would likely face a highly-charged ideological battle to win over enough members.

Starmer said in June that he would support a rule change to automatically expel members in clear cases of anti-Semitism. He has said those who deny the party has a problem with anti-Semitism “are part of the problem” and has said he is “not afraid to say sorry” for how the party has tackled that issue.

However, in October Starmer told the BBC he was nevertheless “100% behind Jeremy Corbyn.”

While he was a firm backer of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which includes some forms of criticism of Israel, Starmer drew criticism in 2017 when he invited a controversial anti-Israel charity to speak to the House of Commons. The Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association has praised Palestinian suicide bombers who targeted Israel civilians during the Second Intifada.

Starmer, as well as all MPs featured in this article except Jess Phillips, is a member of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East, a parliamentary group that promotes support for the Palestinians and campaigns for “peace and justice in the Middle East through the implementation of international law and respect for human rights.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey

Starmer’s biggest threat appears to be 40-year-old Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Corbyn loyalist who has long been seen as his natural successor.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Britain’s Shadow Business secretary, speaks on stage during the Labour Party Conference at the Brighton Centre in Brighton, England, September 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The daughter of a docker from Manchester, northwest England, Long-Bailey has the credentials to win back disaffected voters in the party’s traditional working-class heartlands, while maintaining the backing of Corbyn’s supporters.

“If he could step aside and he knew that he’d be handing over to a Rebecca Long-Bailey or to somebody else that would be kind of a continuity ‘Corbynite,’ then I think he probably might,” University of Nottingham professor Steven Fielding told AFP.

Long-Bailey has also deputized for Corbyn at the weekly prime minister’s questions in parliament.

But given the waning star of the veteran leftist, it is unclear how much influence he will have over the process.

Much could depend on whether the trade unions that prop up the party decide they want it to move towards the center in a bid to beat the Tories after such a crushing defeat.

Long-Bailey, like Starmer, has backed expulsion from the party for members found guilty of anti-Semitism, and said in June during a meeting with the Jewish Labour Movement that the party had lost the trust of the Jewish community.

But she was slammed in May for laughing while responding to accusations of anti-Semitism directed toward Corbyn. She defended his writing a foreword for a book claiming Jews control banks and the media, saying “he was commenting in a wider political sense in the same way many MPs have done over the years.”

Angela Rayner

The combative 39-year-old served in Corbyn’s top team for three years after being elected in 2015, and describes herself as being part of Labour’s “soft-left” wing.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner during a visit to the Scrap Creative Reuse Arts Project while on the General Election campaign trail in Leeds, England, November 9, 2019. (Nigel Roddis/PA via AP)

Her back story has won admirers: she left school at 16, pregnant and without any qualifications, but worked her way up to become a senior trade union official.

“People underestimate me,” Rayner told the Guardian in 2012. “I’m a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time.”

Rayner last year apologized after describing as “seminal” a book by anti-Zionist historian Norman Finkelstein accusing Jews of collectively abusing the memory of the Holocaust for political and financial gain.

But earlier this year she lashed out at Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism, saying she was “absolutely embarrassed” and “totally exasperated,” and backing “setting up an independent system” to deal with complaints.

A year ago, Rayner attacked the “horrifying consequences” of “bigotry about Israel and Jewish people generally” during the Board of Deputies annual Hanukkah reception.

Emily Thornberry

Corbyn’s foreign affairs spokeswoman for two years, the outspoken MP has previously courted controversy but could be a popular choice among the party’s “Remain” majority having been a vocal proponent of stopping Brexit.

Shadow Secretary Emily Thornberry gives a speech at the 2016 Labour conference. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Rwendland, Wikipedia)

Thornberry, 59, first appeared on the national stage in 2014 after tweeting a photograph of a house in a working-class constituency adorned with three England flags.

Then party leader Ed Miliband said the apparently mocking tweet showed a “lack of respect,” and the incident, over which she resigned, could still hinder her in her efforts to win working class support.

Thornberry has said “nobody can pretend” Labour doesn’t have an anti-Semitism problem and has called on the party to “sort out ” the matter.

Thornberry is a bitter critic of Israel, telling the Times of Israel on a visit two years ago that it was not a country for others in the region to emulate. She has said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “trying to turn Israel into an apartheid state,” has said she would weigh an arms embargo against Israel, has said Jerusalem should be run by an international body, and in 2017 supported Britain marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration by recognizing a Palestinian state.

Jess Phillips

The 38-year-old was elected to parliament in 2015 after a career working with refugees and victims of domestic violence.

She soon became one of its most recognizable voices, with passionate and energetic performances delivered in her distinctive West Midlands accent.

She is no friend of Corbyn, having once joked she would “stab him in the front,” and would be an outsider to replace him.

But she is a canny media operator, being one of the party’s most visible MPs on Twitter and earning glowing profiles in newspapers from across the political spectrum.

Unlike the rest of the candidates to succeed Corbyn, Phillips is not a member of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East. Rather, she is a member of Labour Friends of Israel.

She has herself been the subject of an anti-Semitic attack after Labour member Ian Humphries was expelled earlier this year for claiming she had been paid 1 million pounds by the “Israel lobby.”

Phillips has been outspoken in her criticism of Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism in the party. In September she said in an interview that Corbyn couldn’t win the election and had “passed his peak.” The party subsequently attempted to oust her, but that motion was shot down in a landslide vote.

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