With all in Labour agreed that Jeremy Corbyn is in first place in the leadership election, the battle is on to claim challenger status. Both Andy Burnham and Yvetter Cooper’s campaigns are fiercely briefing that they are in second place. Earlier this evening, Cooper’s team announced that new data showed their candidate ahead of Burnham in every region of the country with the latter in fourth place in London (where a quarter of the selectorate is based). A spokesperson said: “Andy’s campaign is struggling to respond to Jeremy which is why he is changing position from day to day.
In response, however, a Burnham source accused Cooper of “a desperate, panicked stunt” and said it was “completely untrue” that she was second. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t say? But it’s not just Team Burnham briefing their man is second. A rival campaign told me: “Yvette’s team seem to believe that by simply saying something you can make it true. In reality, the only candidate with a shot at catching Jeremy is Andy as he’s ahead of Yvette in every region in the country. The Cooper camp’s spin does party members a disservice at a time when they are trying to make the right choice to save the future of their party.” Sources from all sides have told me that their data, including from the last week (following Cooper’s attack on Corbyn), shows Burnham in second.
But Cooper’s team are standing by their data. They argue that it is in Corbyn and Burnham’s interests to argue that the latter is second (with both fishing for second-preference votes) and that Liz Kendall’s phone-banks are almost “non-existent” rendering their data “pretty worthless”. The most recent YouGov poll, which psephologists regard as more reliable than canvass records, showed Burnham three points ahead of Cooper (21-18) in the first round but tied with her in the second (23-23). Some key Kendall allies, such as John Woodcock and Gloria de Piero, have endorsed Burnham on arithmetical grounds. But others, such as Tristram Hunt and Ivan Lewis, have backed Cooper. Some, believing that Corbyn’s lead is unassailable, have endorsed her in spite of believing that Burnham is ahead. One MP told me that he wanted to punish the latter for “pandering” to Corbyn and for “opportunism”.
The battle for “second” isn’t just significant as an attempt to gain some late momentum. It also reflects the belief that whoever finishes as runner-up to Corbyn (who almost all expect to win) will be best-placed to take over should he fall before the election.
Meanwhile, Cooper’s campaign have accused Burnham’s camp of “everyday sexism” after a source told me that Cooper’s claims were “straight out of the Ed Balls playbook”.
Update: Cooper backer Seema Malhotra has responded to the “Ed Balls playbook” line. She said: “This is a leadership contest and of course there’ll be debate on policy and politics. But Andy needs to stop his team resorting to sexist jibes. It doesn’t help his campaign or the Labour Party.”