Rick Perry's fate sealed by an "Oops"

To think that all those millions of dollars raised should come to this: a man who looks too stupid t

Never say politics isn't full of surprises. Last night's Republican debate in Michigan appears to have witnessed the end of one candidate's presidential campaign, but it wasn't Herman Cain who was brought down by the sheer weight of those sexual harassment allegations -- but Rick Perry, who fell victim to the most embarrassing kind of political amnesia.

The Texas Governor may be highly regarded in his home state, but on the national stage he's often come across as something of a joke, with poor performances in previous debates adding to a somewhat lacklustre campaign. Last night though, his fate was potentially sealed by a single word: "Oops".

The actual flub is almost too painful to watch. It was a kind of brain meltdown, as Perry struggled to list the three Government agencies that he would axe. After Commerce and Education, he just couldn't blurt out the third.

As the audience broke into guffaws Perry blundered on, but for the pundits, it was all over. Presidential scholar Larry Sabato called it "the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate". Ouch. Politico quotes an email from one high-level supporter simply stating "I'm sad. Stuck a fork in himself. Can't decide which is worse, Dean scream or Perry oops." On a more serious note, leading GOP senator Jim DeMint admitted "It is a problem. We need to stay on message."

Perry himself insisted his campaign was right on track -- and he's even been trying to make some political capital out of the gaffe, with a new fundraising letter to supporters. We all have human moments, it says, "and tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies."

The candidate himself appeared in the spin room immediately after the debate with that same bluff-straight-through it approach. "I stepped in it out there", he told reporters. "I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven't forgotten my conservative principles."

But any candidate worth a dime wouldn't have had to show up in the spin room in person: it's not exactly front runner behaviour. To think that all those millions of dollars raised, all those endless trips to the furthest flung regions of Iowa and New Hampshire, should come to this: a man who now looks too stupid to win the Republican nomination.

There's just eight weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses -- not long to rebuild an image, not long to urge big-time donors to stay on board. Even in a contest which has been anything but predictable, it's not looking good for Perry. Take an email from one backer, who tries to list three reasons why he still supports him: "He really is, ah... I'll get back to you on the third". "Oops" Apocalypse, as you might say.

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News.

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Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.