Jess Phillips drops out of Labour leadership race

21 January 2020, 17:44

Jess Phillips has backed out of the race
Jess Phillips has backed out of the race. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Jess Phillips has announced she is backing out of the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the next Labour leader.

The outspoken backbencher, who was a prominent critic of Corbyn's leadership, acknowledged she would not be able to unite the unions, members and Labour MPs behind her.

In a video posted to her Twitter page Ms Phillips said Labour had to "talk to the country on their terms, not just on ours" to win an election.

"In order to do that, the Labour Party will need to select a candidate that can unite all parts of our movement - the union movement, the members and elected representatives - I have to be honest that at this time, that person isn't me," she said.

The prospective leader failed to turn up at a hustings event earlier on Tuesday, which aides said this was due to her having an unavoidable appointment elsewhere.

The leadership challenge was launched after Jeremy Corbyn announced he would not be fighting another general election after his party suffered one of its worst performances in modern history.

His party lost 60 seats - many to the Tories - including ones in the Labour heartlands which have been red for generations.

Mr Corbyn has refused to step down, instead saying he will remain until a full leadership election is held.

When she set out her bid, Ms Phillips told LBC News: "We have to win elections in order to do the things that we want."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer is the frontrunner in the contest, having already secured his place on the final ballot paper as a result of nominations from the unions Unison and Usdaw and the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (Sera), an affiliate group.

With Ms Phillips (second left) dropping out, it leaves Emily Thornberry (L), Rebecca Long-Bailey (M), Sir Kier Starmer (second right) and Lisa Nandy (R) vying for the top job
With Ms Phillips (second left) dropping out, it leaves Emily Thornberry (L), Rebecca Long-Bailey (M), Sir Kier Starmer (second right) and Lisa Nandy (R) vying for the top job. Picture: PA

Sir Keir, Ms Nandy, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry were all at the GMB's hustings in London on Tuesday.

According to a new survey by YouGov, Sir Kier is expected to enjoy around 50 per cent of the vote, with the closest contender being Ms Long-Bailey on 33 per cent.

Ms Nandy then trails on 10 per cent and Ms Thornberry on 4 per cent.

Shortly after Ms Phillip's announcement that she was bowing out of the race, Former shadow cabinet minister Lisa Nandy took a big step towards making it on to the final ballot paper after she won the backing of the GMB union.

The endorsement of the GMB puts Ms Nandy within touching distance of a place on the final ballot paper.

Lisa Nandy got the support of the GMB Union
Lisa Nandy got the support of the GMB Union. Picture: PA

Candidates need the nominations of three Labour affiliates, including at least two unions, which amount to at least 5% of affiliate members.

The only other route on to the ballot paper is by receiving nominations from at least 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs).

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: "Lisa Nandy is a breath of fresh air in the debate over Labour's future.

"The more members see of Lisa in this contest, the more impressed they will be by her ambition, optimism and decisive leadership. GMB is proud to nominate her.

"Lisa won't shy away from the tough challenges or bold decisions that lie ahead, because she knows that after 15 years of losing elections, more of the same won't cut it."

Ms Nandy, who already had the support of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: "Labour is at a crossroads. To win again we will have to up our game, recover our ambition and inspire a movement.

"The GMB, the biggest industrial union which speaks for more than half a million workers, has been offering that leadership time and time again in recent years.

"As I seek permission to lead us back to power as Labour's next prime minister I could not be more proud to have their support."

The GMB also backed shadow education secretary Angela Rayner in the deputy leadership contest.

With Ms Long-Bailey expected to pick up the support of the major Unite union to be Sir Keir's main rival, Ms Thornberry appears to face an uphill battle to make it through to the next stage of the contest.

She said she was "very sorry" that Ms Phillips had dropped out, adding: "We need to broaden our debate, not narrow it, and force the two favourites to prove they're up to the fight by pitting them against some real strength."