The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Labour tests two Manchester MPs as Corbyn successors

Two Greater Manchester MPs are possibly being considered as the next leader of the Labour Party, polling in Manchester suggests

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The Labour Party has tested public opinion of two Greater Manchester MPs, possibly as part of “succession planning” for leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Sunday Times obtained the results of a secret focus group, assembled in Manchester last month. Carried out by pollsters BMG Research, it tested the popularity of senior Labour politicians amongst Northern voters.

A source in the Labour Party told The Guardian that the importance of this research had been overestimated, saying that “polling of Northern voters was about how best to get Labour’s message across in the North, and has nothing at all to do with ‘succession planning.'”

Whilst it has been denied by party officials, a Sunday Times source indicated that the polling was intended to measure the likeability of potential successors for Corbyn, the current Leader of the Opposition.

Recent research by YouGov found that Jeremy Corbyn is the most unpopular major party leader in the UK, scoring lower than Conservative Theresa May and UKIP’s Paul Nuttall. Respondents in this internal polling described him as “boring.” His appearance was a source of criticism, with members of the focus group believing that he looked “fed up” and “like a scruffy schoolkid” when appearing in public.

Two female Members of Parliament for the Greater Manchester area were also scrutinised by the public. Rebecca Long-Bailey, the MP for Salford and Eccles, was especially appealing to the focus group.

A former solicitor who studied at Manchester Metropolitan University, Long-Bailey was made the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy earlier this month. She was seen as “passionate,” “genuine,” “sincere” and “very smart.” However, some respondents thought her manner of speaking was a potential issue, describing her as “aggressive” and “rough.”

A Labour source told The Sunday Times that the party believed Angela Rayner’s backstory would make her popular with the electorate. Born in Stockport, Rayner left school at sixteen to give birth to a son. Despite this, she has risen to become the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne and the Shadow Secretary of State for Education. However, the Manchester focus group returned “overwhelmingly negative” opinions of her, according to the Times’ source. Those polled believed Rayner was “not likeable”, “weird” and “a bit charity-shop looking.” One participant even suggested that voters would not be able to take her seriously.

In a visit to Manchester earlier this month, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Manchester Evening News that both Long-Bailey and Rayner were “absolutely brilliant” politicians. He described Long-Bailey as “a great friend” and “an absolutely brilliant person.” Corbyn said of Rayner: “she’s made such a mark and such a difference…there’s more victories to come.”

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, refuted rumours that the focus group was linked to a hunt for Mr Corbyn’s successor. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he acknowledged that “there was a range of shadow cabinet members that were so-called road tested”, but stated that “this is what we do in our normal run of political consultations.”

Speaking about the recent YouGov concerning Corbyn’s popularity, Watson said: “this is not the time for a leadership election…it is [Corbyn’s] duty to lead the official opposition through a period of unprecedented economic uncertainty and he will be tested. He has to explain those and he has to improve on them and he’s well aware of that.”