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12 July 2016

Who wants to be Angela Eagle? Why the leadership challenger has the worst job in politics

Eagle faces a humiliating defeat, or a horrendous victory. 

By Julia Rampen

After some deliberation, Angela Eagle is taking it for the team. By formally challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership, the former shadow Business secretary has opened herself up to the risk of entering the career doldrums, social media abuse – and worse. Her constituency office was bricked over the weekend. 

It’s tempting, after years of male leadership, to compare Angela Eagle to the incoming PM, Theresa May. They are both female MPs trying to sort out their party’s mess. But there, the comparison ends.

The reality of Brexit negotiations will tarnish May in some voters’ eyes. But she has been confirmed Tory leader. The party has rallied. She will hold the keys to No.10.

Eagle, on the other hand, is lending her face to an opposition within an opposition. She has ticked a box to set a process in motion. She is doing the anti-Corbyn radio interviews and answering the questions on the doorstep. 

Her repayment? Becoming a hate figure for the far left. 

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At the NEC meeting this afternoon, Labour’s ruling body will decide whether Corbyn should be able to stand for re-election automatically. Otherwise, he will almost certainly be excluded from the ballot. 

Neither of these options will hand Eagle a golden egg. If Corbyn stands, she will be facing a re-run of 2015’s leadership elections. He won a sweeping victory. She ran for deputy leader, and the members consigned her to fourth place before she was eliminated. Should she lose again, Corbyn will have a renewed mandate and she will no longer even have her shadow ministerial role to exert influence through. 

If the PLP manages to exclude Corbyn, on the other hand, it is hardly more cheering. Such a decision would seem to confirm his supporters’ claims that PLP is ignoring the views of party members. Eagle, a former NEC member and the voice of the rebels, will no doubt be held responsible. 

But even if she can ignore the personal attacks, the victory will be a hollow one. 

Silencing pro-Corbyn members can only guarantee one thing – a divided, bitter Labour party, with an organised Corbynite grassroots movement undermining the leadership at every turn. Unless Eagle is about to reveal atomic levels of charisma, she can be at best a caretaker. At worst, she will be consumed by the internal flames.  

In time, perhaps, a stronger candidate will hatch. If Eagle takes the long view, this could be her reward. She still may go down as the woman who saved the Labour party from itself. But there will be a lot of hate, and a lot of broken glass to clean up first.