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Labour Party Brexit spokesman Starmer ahead in leadership race - poll

FILE PHOTO: Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer speaks during a Labour Party general election campaign meeting in Harlow, Britain November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) - Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for Britain’s opposition Labour Party, has emerged as the early front runner in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as leader, according to a poll of members.

The party is expected to elect a new leader in March after the veteran socialist Corbyn said he would step down following his party’s heavy election defeat at the hands of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in December.

Starmer has not yet said whether he will run for the leadership but is expected to launch a campaign in the coming weeks.

A YouGov poll of party members published in the Guardian newspaper put support for Starmer on 61% in a run off against Rebecca Long-Bailey, the party’s business spokeswoman who has strong ties with trade unions and the left wing of the party that backed Corbyn.

The poll put support for Long-Bailey on 39%, when respondents were given a choice between the two.

Starmer was the first choice in all regions of the country however his support waned among party members who voted to leave the European Union as opposed to those who wanted to remain.

The 57-year-old, who represents a north London constituency, was seen as instrumental in pushing the party to back a second referendum on leaving the bloc.

The poll surveyed 1,059 Labour members but did not include all potential voters in the contest, many of whom are eligible through trade union membership.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing William James