McDonnell pulls out of Labour leadership race

John McDonnell stands aside to give Diane Abbott a fighting chance of making the ballot.

Paul Waugh has the news that John McDonnell has withdrawn from the Labour leadership race after failing to secure enough nominations. It's a principled move by the Labour left-winger and, as I argued yesterday, it's Abbott who has the better chance of making the ballot.

Here's his statement:

I stood for the Labour leadership as the candidate of the left and trade union movement so that there could be a proper debate about Labour's future in which all the wings of the party were fully represented.

It is now clear that I am unlikely to secure enough nominations and so I am withdrawing in the hope that we can at least secure a woman on the ballot paper.

Yesterday I wrote to Harriet Harman to urge her to use her position as acting leader in association with the party's national officers to secure a reduction of the qualifying threshold for candidates to be allowed on to the ballot paper. Regrettably this has not occurred and so I have no other option but to withdraw in the interests of the party.

I know that many Labour activists and trade unionists will be disappointed that their candidate will not be on the ballot. I am urging them to continue the fight for democracy within the party so that in future leadership elections rank-and-file members will be represented by the candidate of their choice.

It's worth noting that he doesn't mention Diane Abbott by name (he's never been a fan), merely stating that Labour should have "a woman" on the ballot paper.

Abbott's chances of making the ballot have improved dramatically, and between them the pair have 27 nominations, just six short of the required 33. But, according to Waugh, only eight of McDonnell's 16 supporters will transfer their votes to Abbott.

That doesn't come as a surprise; many Labour MPs have never forgiven Abbott for her decision to send her son to private school and were unhappy that she entered the contest in the first place and split the left.

Still, with 36 Labour MPs yet to nominate a candidate (you can see a list of them here), it would be wrong to write off Abbott just yet.

Ed Balls has already urged his potential supporters to back an alternative candidate and others may follow.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scottish Labour's defeat to the Tories confirms a political transformation

The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist.

It was Scotland where Labour's recovery was supposed to begin. Jeremy Corbyn's allies predicted that his brand of left-wing, anti-austerity politics would dent the SNP's hegemony. After becoming leader, Corbyn pledged that winning north of the border would be one of his greatest priorities. 

But in the first major elections of his leadership, it has proved to be Labour's greatest failure. A result that was long thought unthinkable has come to pass: the Conservatives have finished second (winning 31 seats). For the first time since the 1910 election, Labour has finished third (winning 24). Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale stood on a left-wing platform, outflanking the SNP on tax (pledging to raise the top rate to 50p and increase the basic rate by 1p), promising to spend more on public services and opposing the renewal of Trident. But rather than advancing, the party merely retreated.

Its fate confirms how Scottish politics has been realigned. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. With the SNP as the only major pro-independence party, the Tories, led by the pugnacious Ruth Davidson, framed themselves as the pro-UK alternative - and prospered. In contrast, Dugdale refused to rule out supporting a second referendum and suggested that MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for secession. The result was that Scottish Labour was left looking dangerously irrelevant. "Identity politics. Labour doesn't get it," a shadow minister told me. Its socialist pitch counted for little in a country that remains ideologically closer to England than thought. The SNP has lost its majority (denying it a mandate for a second referendum) - an outcome that the electoral system was always designed to make impossible. But its rule remains unthreatened. 

Corbyn's critics will seek to pin the baleful result on him. "We turned left and followed Jeremy's politics in Scotland, which far from solving our problems, pushed us into third," a senior opponent told me. But others will contend that a still more left-wing leader, such as Neil Findlay, is needed. Dugdale is personally supportive of Trident and was critical of Corbyn before his election. Should she be displaced, the party will be forced to elect its sixth leader in less than five years. But no one is so short-sighted as to believe that one person can revive the party's fortunes. Some Corbyn critics believe that a UK-wide recovery is a precondition of recovery north of the border. At this juncture, they say, SNP defectors would look anew at the party as they contemplate the role that Scottish MPs could play in a Westminster government. But under Corbyn, having become the first opposition to lose local election seats since 1985, it is even further from power. 

In Scotland, the question now haunting Labour is not merely how it recovers - but whether it ever can. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.