Angela Eagle has pulled out of the Labour leadership race, leaving Owen Smith as the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn.
The former shadow Business minister was the first to stand up and issue a formal leadership challenge to the embattled Labour leader.
Supporters had hoped she could become the first female leader of the Labour Party. But others feared her history of voting for the invasion of Iraq and bombing in Syria could haunt her.
After the first round of nominations, Eagle thanked her supporters and congratulated Smith in coming top.
She continued: “Owen Smith has a lead and I think it’s in the best interests of the Labour Party that we come together so we have one candidate.
“We have a Labour Party at the moment that is not working, we’ve got a leader that does not have the confidence of his MPs. We need to have a strong and united Labour Party.”
She said the gap in votes was narrow, but pledged to be “in lock step” with Smith.
The decision to drop out will be applauded by MPs desperate to overthrow Corbyn, but will be a blow to those embarrassed about Labour’s record on female leadership. While the Tory Party now has its second PM, Labour has had no female leader except for the times when Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman briefly acted as stand ins.
Smith, who resigned from the shadow Cabinet in June, announced he would stand as a second challenger to Jeremy Corbyn last week.
He previously declared he was ready to do “whatever it takes” to stop the party imploding.
But he came under fire for having a “Leadsom moment” after declaring his wife and children made him “normal”.
Despite the determination of the rebel MPs to put forward a unity candidate, they still face an uphill battle. A YouGov poll found Corbyn would beat both Eagle and Smith by roughly equal measures.
Who is Owen Smith?
The Labour MP for Pontypridd won his seat in 2010. A former radio producer and special adviser, he quickly earned a seat on the shadow front bench. In 2012, Ed Miliband appointed him to the shadow Cabinet, as shadow secretary of state for Wales. Unlike some of his shadow Cabinet colleagues from the Miliband era, Smith kept his Cabinet seat under Corbyn, where he served as shadow Work and Pensions secretary. But in June, after the Brexit vote, he joined other MPs in a mass resignation in protest at Corbyn’s leadership.
In January, while still in his post, he told The New Statesman he was interested in being Labour leader and “it would be “an incredible honour and privilege” to do the job.
Asked whether he would stand in the future, the former shadow Welsh secretary said: “I don’t think there’s any vacancy right now. But I think any politician who comes into this to want to try and change the world for the better, starting with their own patch and working outwards, I think they’re either in the wrong game or fibbing if they don’t say, ‘if you had the opportunity to be in charge and put in place your vision for a better Britain would you take it?’ Yeh, of course, it would be an incredible honour and privilege to be able to do that.”
Smith emphasised, however, that he expected Corbyn to lead Labour into the 2020 general election and offered a more unambiguous endorsement than some of his shadow cabinet colleagues. “Jeremy is going to lead us into the election, he’s the leader of the Labour Party … He’s said very, very clearly that he wants to take us into the next election, he won a stonking great majority. Jeremy is going to be taking us into the election in 2020. End of.”