Who won this evening’s Labour leadership hustings, the first before the parliamentary party? The reaction of attendees leaving Committee Room 14 was striking for its lack of overt hostility towards any one candidate – except, perhaps, for Rebecca Long-Bailey, who many Labour MPs need no excuse to criticise.
Though the shadow business secretary’s pitch irritated some of her colleagues – one of whom complains that it appeared to ignore the fact of Long-Bailey’s service at the heart of the Corbyn project – there was little of the fury so often encountered at PLP meetings since 2015. Cautious enthusiasm was in ready supply: all six candidates divide opinion but most MPs present agreed that all were at least varying degrees of passable, and that none irredeemably humiliated themselves.
For Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer, and Jess Phillips, all of whom can be confident that they will clear the hurdle of 22 MPs/MEPs regardless of the quality of their turn this evening, the reaction of their colleagues is arguably neither here nor there.
Tonight did, however, offer those less likely to secure 22 nominations — Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry — the chance to make or break their candidacy. Of the three, it was Nandy with whom colleagues were most impressed, while Thornberry, in keeping with her largely inconspicuous run thus far, most struggled to make an impact.
Supporters of their rivals waste no time in stressing that both Nandy and Thornberry face falling at the first hurdle. There is, however, a not inconsiderable difference in degree. While Nandy has six public endorsements, Thornberry has only one: herself. Their performances this evening suggest Nandy is much likelier to confound expectations than the shadow foreign secretary.