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21 January 2020

How Emily Thornberry could still make the Labour leadership ballot

The shadow foreign secretary’s campaign received a major boost yesterday, when she achieved her first two constituency party nominations.

By Stephen Bush

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner are the first to qualify for the Labour leadership and deputy leadership ballots, thanks to the support of the retail union Usdaw, which has added to the growing pile of endorsements amassed by the two frontrunners thus far.

But who else will join them? In the leadership race, only Rebecca Long-Bailey has a certain path – owing to the backing of Unite and various other smaller pro-Corbyn trades unions – while Lisa Nandy has the best chance of the second-tier candidates. With a large number of GMB-aligned MPs supporting her, adding to the fact that her thesis on Labour’s problem is closest to that of GMB general secretary Tim Roache, the smart money has long been that Nandy will also pick up the GMB’s support. That union is due to reach a formal decision today, which could leave Nandy just one affiliated body, of any size or type, away from the ballot.

And in the deputy race, only Richard Burgon has a reliable route as Rayner’s popularity among both Corbynsceptic and soft Corbynite trade unions means that she will likely pick up the lion’s share of nominations.

Everyone else – in the leadership race, Emily Thornberry and Jess Phillips; in the deputy contest, Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler and Ian Murray – is going to need to go via the constituency nomination route, which requires them to secure the support of 33 CLPs.

Of that group, Ian Murray looks to be the safest bet. There are still 70 Scottish constituency nominations up for grabs (the party in Scotland organises itself along Holyrood lines, not Westminster seats). While it is early days, that he has thus far won the majority of Scottish constituencies to have declared suggests he has a good route to the ballot there.

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What about Thornberry and Phillips? The former’s campaign received a big boost yesterday, when she picked up her first two CLP nominations – the first night that Starmer has not picked up more nominations than his rivals. Of the four CLPs that were up for grabs, Starmer and Long-Bailey, who are certain to make the ballot via other means, ended up with one apiece, while Thornberry picked up the rest.

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I’m told that Thornberry’s win largely came down to a combination of a desire to widen the ballot and a genuine appreciation of Thornberry’s talents, particularly her performances at the despatch box and her display at the hustings on Saturday. She’s also well-placed because the candidates who her appeal is closest to – Starmer and Long-Bailey – are both certain to be on the ballot by the end of the week. If anyone is going to benefit from lent nominations, it’s her. It’s a long road from two to 33, but I wouldn’t rule out Thornberry’s chances of making the ballot proper just yet.