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22 January 2020

Evening Call: Lisa Nandy is through to the final stage of the Labour leadership race

And yet, I can't shake the ennui.

By Jonn Elledge

Is it just me or is this whole Labour leadership election thing turning out to be just a little bit on the blah side?

It shouldn’t be anything of the sort: it should be thrilling, if you find such things thrilling, which if you’re reading this I can probably safely assume that you do. In the two days since we last spoke, two big and exciting things have happened.

Firstly, after a terrible hustings over the weekend, yesterday Jess Phillips quit the race. Partly this was because it was becoming increasingly difficult to see a path for her to the final round, when the Labour membership actually gets its say: with a shrinking pool of affiliates left undeclared, she would have needed the support of a lot of constituency parties.

But partly, it was also because she realised that she couldn’t unite the party – or, to paraphrase, that she couldn’t actually do the job. There’s something refreshing about a politician saying “I’m not right for this”, and standing aside, if only because it hardly ever happens. As Ailbhe wrote yesterday, Phillips’ leadership campaign is a lesson in the limits of “straight-talking” politics.

The other unexpected plot twist is the surprise rise of the woman who Phillips has just endorsed, Lisa Nandy. Earlier today the Wigan MP and town fancier won the support of her third affiliate, Chinese for Labour, making her the second candidate to qualify for the final round. (Keir Starmer is already there; Rebecca Long-Bailey has yet to qualify. More from Patrick here.) She’s been winning plaudits for her media appearances, too, not least for the bit where she asked Piers Morgan exactly how he was qualified to tell whether something was racist or not.

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Since Nandy always looked like a long-shot, and since, as noted by Stephen, she’s absolutely brimming with ideas about policies that might revive the party, this too feels like it should count as an exciting plot twist.

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And yet somehow the whole thing still feels kind of low energy. Maybe it’s because the next general election is a long way away, and the hope of a Labour government possibly even further. Maybe it’s because after the endless rollercoaster of the last few years of politics, a relatively sedate Labour leadership race – a return to political normality – just doesn’t provide the thrills we’ve grown used to. Maybe it’s because it is not obvious, at least not yet, that any of the candidates have the sort of policies or appeal that might overturn a defeat on the scale we saw last month. Or maybe it’s just because we’re all tired.

But maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s a mark of my privilege that the Labour Party’s choice of leader, and my failure thus far to feel a strong response towards any of them, just doesn’t feel like a burning issue to me personally. Do write in to berate me and tell me what I’m missing if so.

Good day for…

Bernie Sanders. While we’re on the subject of internal party races I’m struggling to work up any enthusiasm for: a CNN/SSRS poll has the Vermont senator ahead of former vice president Joe Biden in the Democratic primary contest for the first time, by 27 per cent to 24 per cent (so, within the margin of error). Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is at 14 per cent; former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg at 11. There are some other candidates still in the race, too, but realistically we can probably ignore those guys.

The Iowa caucus, the first time votes will actually be cast in this election, which has been going on since around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, takes place in just under two weeks, on Monday 3 February.

Bad day for…

Child refugees and their families. Yesterday, the Lords voted in favour of an amendment put forward by Alf Dubs – a former child refugee himself – which would have guaranteed family reunion rights for unaccompanied children after Britain leaves the European Union on 31 January. Today, Conservative MPs voted to overturn it. Great look, guys.

Quote of the day

“All that distinctive Python stuff, linking the sketches, the meta gags – that was him.”

Radio comedy writer Eddie Robson on Terry Jones, whose death at the age of 77 was announced today. You can read more of Robson’s thoughts on Jones on the NS here.

Everybody is talking about…

Davos, the sort of awkward party conference for billionaires which is happening in the Swiss Alps even now for some reason. Jeremy has written about the new “Woke Davos”, and the global elite’s attempt to solve inequality through vacuous buzzwords, for this week’s magazine.

Everybody should be talking about…

The climate crisis, and the fact that solving it will require state intervention, not just voluntary action. It’s the topic of this week’s New Statesman leader. It’s worth a read.


Questions? Comments? Drop me an email.

For those of you who wanted to know what I was doing instead of writing a newsletter yesterday, you can check out the evidence of my 16 mile walk, from Tower Bridge to Kew, here. And yes, my feet do hurt.

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