The Labour deputy leadership looks likely to be a two-horse race

With nominations closed at noon, it looks likely that none of Stella Creasy, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle or Rushanara Ali will make the ballot, unless someone blinks first.

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In 2007, six candidates challenged for Labour’s deputy leadership. In 2015, it looks increasingly likely to just be two: Tom Watson, and Caroline Flint. Watson will start as the heavy frontrunner, in contrast to the open race in 2007 between Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson, Jon Cruddas, Peter Hain and Hazel Blears.

Not everything has changed: in 2007, all six candidates were surprised to learn that Keith Vaz had pledged to back all of them. When Rushanara Ali announced this time, she said she had secured the support of both Vaz and his sister, Valerie Vaz. That came as a surprise to Stella Creasy’s campaign, who had both Vazes down as their supporters. Yesterday, Valerie Vaz nominated Ben Bradshaw and Keith Vaz has yet to nominate anyone. “The only person who can rely on Keith Vaz is Keith Vaz,” quipped one supporter of Watson.

Who Vaz ends up supporting may be the only real item of interest today, as nominations close for the deputy race. None of Creasy, Bradshaw, Ali or Angela Eagle look likely to secure the 35 signatures they need.

Watson has 59 and Flint has 41: both clear of the threshold. The closest of the chasing pack is Creasy, with 28 names.

But that gap of just seven names is bigger than it looks – just 30 MPs remain who could nominate. In reality, just 22 can. The four candidates for the leadership can’t be seen to take sides in the race for their number two. Neither can Ed Miliband, the departed leader, nor Harriet Harman, his replacement pro tem. Jon Cryer, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, and Rosie Winterton, the Chief Whip, both have to work with whichever candidates come out on top and will stay out of both races.

The 22 includes MPs like Roger Godsiff, who has never used his nomination in any Labour leadership contest. The ten nominations needed by Ben Bradshaw and Angela Eagle, while mathematically plausible, are practically impossible. Rushanara Ali, who is even further back, with 24, is effectively out of the race.

Could Creasy still make it? If any of the remaining four candidates fell on their sword, that would be enough for the other three to make it. But none of the candidates are budging. “Mexican standoff,” was the glum text of one supporter.  Team Creasy, I’m told, feel that as the candidate closest to the ballot, it should be for someone else to give way. But the Ali camp, who are furthest from qualification, point out that, without their candidate in the race, the entire field, for both leader and deputy leader, will be an all-white affair. That leaves Bradshaw and Eagle, the only LGBT candidates in the race, both tied on 25 – and Bradshaw is the only candidate from a Southern seat.

With no candidate offering a compelling case why they, not their rivals, should stay in the race, and none of them regarded as enough of a shoo-in to offer anything after victory, it looks overwhelmingly likely that none of them will make the ballot.  

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.