Why John McDonnell should stand aside for Diane Abbott

It is Abbott who has the greater potential support.

The split between Diane Abbott and John McDonnell is reminiscent of the one between McDonnell and Michael Meacher in 2007. On that occasion, Meacher stood aside and endorsed McDonnell, although the latter still didn't make it on to the ballot paper.

Now, after McDonnell's ill-advised claim that he regrets not "asassinating Thatcher" (it was obviously a joke, but it showed why a lot of people don't take him seriously), there are calls for the Labour left-winger to stand aside to give Diane Abbott a chance of reaching 33 nominations.

Under Labour Party rules, MPs can nominate an alternative candidate if their original choice steps down before nominations close. As things stand, Abbott has eight nominations, while McDonnell has ten, though the former may pull ahead after yesterday's hustings (our own is tomorrow night). There are also six members of the Socialist Campaign Group who have yet to nominate a candidate and are likely to support either Abbott or McDonnell.

It may seem strange for McDonnell to be facing calls to stand aside. After all, with more confirmed support than Abbott, why shouldn't he be asking her to do the same?

But this argument ignores the fact that Abbott's potential support is greater than McDonnell's. There are a number of Labour MPs who would like to see a female candidate on the ballot but won't consider nominating Abbott until she has a realistic chance of proceeding to the next stage. By contrast, many Labour MPs consider McDonnell beyond the pale, due to past acts such as praising the IRA.

Abbott's presence in the contest would force the other candidates to engage with the sort of arguments on privatisation, Afghanistan and inequality that they have avoided for too long.

In an article last month McDonell wrote:

[I]f at the end of this fortnight my standing down would mean securing any woman on this ballot paper, or any black person, of course I will do so.

It may be time for him to do just that.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.