Andy McSmith's Diary: Rushanara Ali blinks first in battle for Labour deputy leadership

Ali pulled out 20 minutes before the final deadline

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At 11.35am – 25 minutes before nominations were due to close – the election for Labour’s deputy leader was on the verge of descending into farce. With each hopeful needing the nominations of 35 Labour MPs, the tally was Stella Creasy 31, Angela Eagle 28, and Ben Bradshaw and Rushanara Ali 25 each.

The four thwarted candidates and their advisers were engaged in desperate negotiations, but it seemed that they would all be excluded from what was doomed to be a straight fight between Tom Watson and Caroline Flint.

One reason it went so close to the wire, according to rumour, is that Ali had been thinking of pulling out the previous day, but got fed up with being told Creasy’s name had to be on the ballot paper because she is the next Labour leader but one. In the event, Ali pulled out about 20 minutes before the final deadline – 20 frantic minutes filled with messages to her 25 backers urging them to visit, telephone or text the Labour office in the Commons and switch their nominations. Creasy got exactly the 35 votes she needed. The other two did slightly better.

How to lose £3…

A setback for Toby Young, the self-promoting Tory journalist who had started a campaign to get fellow Tories to pay £3 to the Labour Party so that they can qualify as “affiliated members” and cast their votes for Jeremy Corbyn, whose victory would guarantee to keep Labour out of office for at least a generation. There is a filtering process. Known opponents of Labour are barred. The party has accepted Young’s £3, but is not going to let him vote.

Farage photo ops at risk 

Nigel Farage has launched a new campaign on an issue on which he is at home. He is seeking to save the Westminster Arms, a pub a short walk from the Commons. Farage’s research led him there yesterday to sample the stock. Opened in 1913, the Westminster Arms once featured in the perennial feud between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. One Friday evening, Blair was told that Brown had given an interview which changed government policy on Europe. Unable to contact the Chancellor, he was reduced to ringing Brown’s adviser, Charlie Whelan. This humiliation was compounded when Blair learnt from a newspaper article (written by me, as it happens) that Whelan was on the pavement by the Westminster Arms when he took the call, and was overheard by other customers. He demanded that Whelan be sacked.  Brown refused.

One joke too far?

The Tory MP Michael Fabricant frequently posts risky comments on Twitter that are meant to be funny. Yesterday he was drawn into a spat which was, on the face of it, silly though it touched on a profoundly serious issue.

In the 1980s, there was an outcry when haemophiliacs were found to have been given HIV-infected blood, a catastrophe which stirred up anti-gay prejudice. There are NHS guidelines now, warning of specific circumstances under which gay men, or women who have had sexual relationships with gay men, should not donate blood.

Fabricant suspects they are a residue of anti-gay prejudice and wants them revised or scrapped. The Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who is gay, thinks they are sensible. The two of them had what Fabricant called a “jokey altercation”. He tweeted about it, posing the rhetorical question “A gay homophobe?” Bryant shot back: “You are a deeply offensive man and it’s time you apologise.”

A weary sounding Bryant told me he is not a homophobe, he has campaigned for years for gay rights and he accused Fabricant of “inverted prejudice”.