Labour leadership: 'Tough old bird' Emily Thornberry says she will make it through to next round

Contenders to succeed Jeremy Corbyn need backing of 22 party MPs or MEPs by Monday to stay in the race 

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 12 January 2020 14:46
Emily Thornberry says she has been described a a 'tough old bird'

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said she is confident she will secure enough MPs’ and MEPs’ nominations by Monday’s deadline to secure a place in the contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Ms Thornberry risks being eliminated early from the contest if she fails to add a further 12 nominations by the 2.30pm deadline to her tally of 10, which has left her lagging behind rivals Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips who have already cleared the 22-signature hurdle.

Despite saying that she is not “personally ambitious”, Ms Long-Bailey insisted that she does want to win the leadership, amid Westminster gossip that she may have been pushed by others to put herself forward as the standard-bearer of the left.

The Salford and Eccles MP denied being the “continuity Corbyn” candidate, telling Sky News: “It annoys me when people say that and unfortunately as a woman, it annoys me even more. I'm a person in my own right.”

Ms Long-Bailey’s campaign has been boosted by the decision of the Momentum steering committee to recommend her for leader in a ballot of the Corbyn-backing movement’s membership this week, and she is expected to secure the endorsement of the influential Unite movement.

But there is consternation among the Labour left that her campaign has misfired in the early days, allowing centrist rival Starmer to establish a strong lead in polling and nominations.

Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether she really wanted the leader’s job, the shadow business secretary replied: “Of course I do. I want to lead this party and not only lead the party, I want to be prime minister because I got involved in politics to change the world.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey calls for abolition of the House of Lords

As of Sunday, the shadow Brexit secretary had 68 nominations from MPs and MEPs, against Long-Bailey’s 26, Nandy’s 24 and Phillips’ 22. Mixed-race candidate Clive Lewis, trailing in last place with four, suggested that “structural racism” may be a factor in Labour never having elected a leader from an ethnic minority.

Ms Thornberry brushed off suggestions that her campaign will come to an abrupt end on Monday.

"There is a large number of MPs who haven't nominated yet,” the shadow foreign secretary told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

"From the conversations I have had this weekend I am fairly confident that, as long as I don't get any slippage, I will be fine. I am going to get across the line and then we will move on to the next stage.

"It is a long contest and it will have its ups and downs. I have been a slow starter, but I did start from a standing start after the general election."

Ms Thornberry said it was understandable that Labour MPs and members might initially turn to shadow Brexit secretary Starmer as a “safe pair of hands” in the immediate aftermath of the party’s disastrous defeat in last month’s general election.

But she described herself as a “tough old bird” who would pick up support as the remaining 12 weeks of the campaign play out.

“The contest is not a week long, the contest is many months and when it opens up and people are able to breathe and look at the situation and think to the future, as opposed to their deep grief about the past, then it will open up much more,” said the Islington South & Finsbury MP.

“I come from a long line of tough old birds and there have been lots of tough old birds in the Labour Party. It would be great for there to be one who becomes leader of the Labour Party, but we’ve several months to make a decision.”

Ms Thornberry hit back at allegations of snobbery sparked by a 2014 tweet allegedly poking fun at a house covered with England flags, as well as her own lifestyle as a barrister and the husband of a judge.

“I don’t sneer at people and it’s not fair to say it,” she said. “The truth of the matter is I was brought up on a council estate, in a house that looks very similar to this, my brother was a builder until he had an accident. I’ve got a sister who’s a bus driver.

“I’m a successful woman but I have had a struggle getting here. I’ve been successful and I’m proud of that and actually, if the Labour Party isn’t proud of people who are successful, what are we about?”

From left, Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey

She said that she was ready to stand up to US president Donald Trump if she becomes leader and prime minister.

“I could do a Theresa May and hold his hand or do a Boris Johnson and be a Donald Trump Mini-Me tribute act,” she said.

“But what you do with bullies is stand up to them and say ‘This is wrong, you shouldn’t do this, you are destabilising the world, what you have done in Iran is wrong’.

“We have to be truthful and say it as it is and that’s what I do.”

Any of the six contenders for the succession who obtain the necessary 22 nominations by Monday afternoon must then overcome a second hurdle before securing their place on the ballot paper, by winning the endorsement of 5 per cent of constituency parties or three affiliated organisations - including two trade unions - by 14 February.

Candidates who meet those requirements will go forward to a postal ballot of around 500,000 members, registered supporters and affiliates, beginning on 21 February, with the victor announced at a special conference on 4 April.

Contenders for the deputy leader post vacated before the election by Tom Watson must also go through the same process to the same timetable. By Sunday, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was clear front-runner with 72 nominations, with the party's sole Scottish MP Ian Murray also past the 22-signature milepost with 30. Still needing more endorsements to stay in the race were shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon on 18, Rosena Allin-Khan on 17 and equalities spokeswoman Dawn Butler on 15.

Labour supporters who do not want to join the party can get a vote in the contest by paying a £25 registration fee between Tuesday and Thursday this week. And new members who join before a “freeze date” of 20 January will also be entitled to take part.

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