Angela Eagle launches her leadership challenge – to a half-empty room

Tom Peck
Monday 11 July 2016 15:08 BST
The awkward moment when Angela Eagle realised journalists had all left her leadership bid launch

If you’re waiting for a quiet moment then you’ve picked the wrong time to be alive but even so it should be noted that Angela Eagle has twice delayed her Big Leadership Challenge Announcement, so as not to clash firstly with Jeremy Corbyn’s own once half-expected resignation and secondly the centenary of the Battle of The Somme.

In the event, the standing ovation and the loud whoops from Labour’s massed rebels that greeted her arrival in a small room in central London provided the perfect foil for three quarters of the media to sneak out.

It was at the exact moment she began speaking that Andrea Leadsom announced she was quitting in the Tory leadership race, effectively anointing Theresa May as the nation’s new Prime Minister.

As she spoke, her audience stared at their phones at live footage of a blue door somewhere in Westminster, wondering why they hadn’t got out while they had the chance. By the time Ms Leadsom emerged from it to announce the game was up, Angela Eagle was already on to the Q and A.

“I believe we’ve got a question from Robert Peston from ITV,” she said. But Robert Peston wasn’t there anymore, he’d done a runner.

Someone else asked her to explain how she could beat Theresa May in a general election.

“Because she’s a Tory!” she shouted. They whooped like mad. Ben Bradshaw in particular seemed so delighted by this that the idea that Labour could conceivably be beaten by the Tories at a general election, as has happened 10 times since the Second World War, appeared to have escaped him entirely.

“It’s about convincing people Labour can be an alternative government, ready and equipped to serve,” she continued. “The country doesn’t look at us like that right now, but they will if I win this fight.”

If that’s the case the country clearly wants an alternative government to look a lot like a daytime talk show. Both Eagle and her poster boards were fully decked out in what is known in these circles as "tour bus pink", her motif the word "Angela", lovingly hand-written. At least I think it said Angela. It might have said Ricki Lake. I was too busy looking at my phone.

Asked whether she could possibly appeal to Labour’s new and large Corbynista wing, she simply pointed out that, "John McDonnell signed my papers for the deputy leadership," an answer that comes from a place so deep within the Westminster bubble it actively smelt of washing up liquid.

It also drew vague attention to the half forgotten fact that last year, before everything went mad, she had stood to be deputy leader and had not even made it as far as the final round of voting, behind such hour-of-need statespeople as occasional on-message TV fembot Caroline Flint.

Back then of course, Labour used to worry about whether their leader knew how to eat a bacon sandwich, or had even the first clue about how to try and win back some of the 40 odd seats it has lost in Scotland, without which its chances at a general election will continue stubbornly to hover around the zero per cent mark.

In the high mad summer of 2016, such matters are for another day. If they can just get someone who evidently didn’t look deputy prime ministerial 12 months ago to somehow look prime ministerial now, at least they’ll be able to tell themselves they’re in with a chance.

And even if no one believes them, well who cares, because nobody’s listening.

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