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11 July 2016

Angela Eagle will need to do better than this if she is to beat Jeremy Corbyn

Eagle's launch has done nothing to dent the mood of optimism in Team Corbyn's ranks. 

By Stephen Bush

It’s been a joke in Labour circles that Andrea Leadsom was their “double agent” on the other side, and Agent Leadsom performed one final act of service to her real party’s leader by withdrawing from the contest just as Angela Eagle kicked-off her much-advertised bid for the Labour leadership.

It meant that Eagle was left in the embarrassing position of setting out her stall to a rapidly emptying room as journalists left to cover the end of Theresa May’s long, long bid to become Prime Minister.

Even so, the launch will have done nothing to remove the spring in the Corbynite step. It was solid if unspectacular, the same description that has earned Eagle rave reviews not only from her special advisers but from the civil servants she worked with as a government minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

But while “solid but unspectacular” won over Whitehall and is a ticket to be desperately seized by Labour’s 172 dissident MPs, who fear that if Jeremy Corbyn leads them into an election, whether in 2020 or sooner, it will end in heavy, perhaps apocalyptic defeat, it is thin gruel indeed if the target audience is Labour activists who badly want to be inspired.

Not that Corbyn’s allies believe they are home and dry just yet. They remain worried that the party’s ruling national executive will rule that he must seek nominations from his parliamentary party, but confident that if they can pass that hurdle they will easily defeat Eagle.

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“I suspect they are putting everything on the NEC decision,” one loyalist staffer said. But if as George reports, Eagle has to defeat Corbyn among the party membership she has a long way to go on this showing. Asked how she would defeat Theresa May, now just days away from becoming Prime Minister, she responded “because she’s a Tory”. The Conservatives have won two on the bounce, 12 elections out of the last 20 and been defeated by just one politician in the last 42 years. If “being a Tory” is an electoral obstacle it has proved to be a rather minor speed bump on the way to Conservative hegemony.

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That matters because Eagle’s chosen dividing line with Corbyn is that he is unelectable but she can defeat the Conservatives and get Labour back in power. Without better answers to the question of how she, not Corbyn, can overcome May at the polls, she will go down to landslide defeat just as surely as Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall did.