Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
7 July 2016

The Tories’ all-female leadership contest will aid Angela Eagle’s leadership bid

Labour MPs are now more likely to back her as "the unity candidate" against Jeremy Corbyn. 

By George Eaton

The Tories will elect their second female leader (and prime minister) before Labour has elected its first. For many opposition MPs, this statistic is a point of shame. Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman held the position for temporary spells but never has the UK’s principal progressive party elected a woman. It is an unarguable truth that what most unites Labour’s former leaders is their sex. 

As discussion continues over whether Angela Eagle or Owen Smith should be “the unity candidate” against Jeremy Corbyn (assuming there is a contest), this fact should aid Eagle. MPs currently undecided between them may flinch at the prospect of an all-male leadership election. Both Eagle and Smith have the support required to make the ballot (50 MP/MEP nominations) but there is no official process to decide who goes forward (an MPs’ hustings has been floated). Eagle, who deputised for Corbyn at PMQs, is well-regarded among the PLP and has attracted backers from all wings, including, as I revealed, Peter Mandelson. But some fear that her past support for the Iraq and Syria interventions will hinder her chances of beating Corbyn. 

Whoever runs, neither Eagle nor Smith will challenge Corbyn until next week at the earliest. Both have agreed to halt their bids while Tom Watson talks to trade union leaders in a bid to negotiate Corbyn’s departure. Asked earlier today when she would stand, Eagle simply replied: “Look, the country doesn’t have an effective opposition at the moment. Jeremy Corbyn needs to go.” Smith, who first revealed his leadership ambitions when I interviewed him in January, said: “I stand ready to do anything I can to save and serve the party.” The former shadow work and pensions secretry added: “I believe that all of us whose priority is to restore unity in the Labour movement and give us a chance to defeat our only true enemy, the Tories, should give these talks every chance to succeed. That is what I intend to do and I urge all my colleagues to do likewise.”

Eagle’s supporters hope that the prospect of a female prime minister (and a female US president) will spur Labour members to finally elect a woman. But a significant number of Corbyn supporters regard the issue as an irrelevance. Even now, it would be unwise to assume that where the Tories lead, Labour will follow. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
The truth about employability
Why we need a Minister for Citizen Experience
Look at the person, not the CV

Topics in this article :