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27 June 2016

Why Angela Eagle is the likeliest challenger to Jeremy Corbyn

The former shadow first secretary of state is the "unity candidate" of choice. But don't rule out a bid by Yvette Cooper. 

By George Eaton

Despite 20 shadow cabinet resignations, there is not the merest hint that Jeremy Corbyn will resign. The Labour leader’s team have pledged to fill most of the empty posts (though a full frontbench looks impossible to assemble) and have vowed not to give in to “a corridor coup”.

At tonight’s PLP meeting, MPs will discuss a motion of no confidence against Corbyn with a secret ballot held tomorrow (the result will be announced around 5pm). After winning the vote by a large margin, senior figures are likely to make a final attempt to persuade the leader to step aside. But having held out this long, there is little prospect of Corbyn doing so.  

It’s for this reason that all sides now expect a leadership contest. Assuming that Corbyn automatically makes the ballot (a matter of legal dispute), most rebels believe he should face a single candidate. Lisa Nandy, who had been touted as a soft left challenger, has ruled herself out. Tom Watson is regarded by many as an ideal replacement but is said to be unwilling to launch a challenge. Rather than a divisive contest, Labour’s deputy leader, who would automatically become interim leader if Corbyn stood down, wants “the leadership on a plate,” a source said (like Michael Howard in 2003). 

This leaves Angela Eagle (who resigned today). The former shadow first secretary of state, who has deputised for Corbyn at PMQs, is known to have leadership ambitions and enjoys increasing support among MPs. As an experienced soft left figure, with strong trade union links, Eagle is regarded as well-placed to bridge Labour’s divides. Asked today whether she would run, she replied: “We need somebody who can unite the party”. Though Corbyn’s team remain confident of winning another leadership election, Eagle may be the one who tests his support.

But don’t rule out a bid by Yvette Cooper. “She’s the only grown-up candidate and I think she wants it,” a source told me yesterday. Cooper’s supporters believe that the experienced economist is best-equipped to respond to the Brexit negotiations. “Labour must look beyond the task of simply ‘uniting the party,'” a source said. But a bid by the former shadow home secretary would likely result in a multi-candidate election (with Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis potentially joining the race). This, Corbyn’s opponents fear, would once again guarantee him victory. 

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