Jess Phillips drops out, Nandy nearly in, as Labour leadership contest field narrows

Labour MP Jess Phillips
Labour MP Jess Phillips
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Jess Phillips has quit the race to lead the Labour party after conceding that she couldn’t secure enough support to stay in the contest.

But the fight to succeed Jeremy Corbyn is set to become a three-horse race after the GMB union gave its backing to Lisa Nandy, boosting her chances of making the final ballot and challenging the two front-runners, Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Candidates have until 14 February to secure nominations from 33 local constituency parties, or three Labour affiliates including two trade unions, representing at least 5 per cent of party members.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour faces divisive deputy leadership contest

Ms Phillips had no endorsements from either local parties or affiliates, and admitted in a newspaper article that her performance in the first leadership hustings on Saturday had been “awful”.

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In a video message posted on twitter, Ms Phillips said: “The Labour Party will need to select a candidate who can unite all parts of our movement, the union movement, members and elected representatives. And I have to also be honest with myself, as I said I always would be throughout this campaign. At this time, that person is not me.”

Mr Starmer and Ms Nandy are now set to battle it out for her endorsement, with many of the 14,700 registered supporters who signed up to cast a vote in the leadership contest believed to be sympathetic to Ms Phillips – one of the staunchest critics of Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

In her concession message, the Birmingham Yardley MP added: “I truly believe that unless we talk to the country on their terms, not just on ours, that we won’t be able to make the gains we need to win an election.”

Meanwhile, the endorsement from the GMB puts Ms Nandy within touching distance of a place on the final ballot paper, with union general secretary Tim Roache calling the Wigan MP “a breath of fresh air”.

“The more members see of Lisa in this contest, the more impressed they will be by her ambition, optimism and decisive leadership,” Mr Roache said.

“Lisa won’t shy away from the tough challenges or bold decisions that lie ahead, because she knows that after 15 years of losing elections, more of the same won’t cut it.”

With the support of just two local parties, the fourth candidate in the contest, Emily Thornberry, faces an uphill struggle to get on to the ballot of Labour members and supporters.

Yesterday the shadow foreign secretary claimed she would “frighten the life out of” Boris Johnson and accused the Prime Minister of having a “woman problem”.

As a regular stand-in for Mr Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Thornberry said she had the experience to take on Mr Johnson, and said it would be “an advantage to be a woman leader at this time”.

The GMB also endorsed frontrunner Angela Rayner for the Labour deputy leadership. Labour’s only Scottish MP, Ian Murray, must now court local party members to get on to the final ballot, but only needs to win the backing of half of Scotland’s 73 constituency parties to reach the threshold.