Sebastian Payne

The Labour leadership contest is about to get nasty

The Labour leadership contest is about to get nasty
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Today is the last call for nominating candidates in the Labour leadership contest. At noon, the nominations will close and we’ll know then whether it’s going to be a three or four horse race. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are on the ballot paper so it’s now a question of whether Jeremy Corbyn can find the extra 17 MPs to meet the 15 per cent threshold. By our calculations, there are 42 MPs still to declare, so it remains very possible that a late surge will push Corbyn towards the 35 nominations needed to make it onto the ballot

Once nominations are closed, the leadership race is thrown into the hands of Labour party members. This is also the point when the campaign is likely to become dirty. The first signs of this can be seen in this morning’s Daily Telegraphwhich reports some extraordinary comments from a source close to Burnham and Cooper, explaining why Liz Kendall’s campaign is over before it has even begun:

‘We are now seeing the end of Taliban New Labour. All of those Blairites who hoped they might get their candidate elected have failed.

‘The whole strategy for Liz was a Westminster strategy – she played up to the media, to the right-wing commentators, to the Blairite Taliban MPs, made a few headlines by saying she was relaxed about free schools and committing to defence spending, and just took a chance that the momentum would carry her forward.

‘But the trouble with that is that the fizzle and sparkle has gone already. Now the contest has moved on to the membership, who will not be interested in that kind of rhetoric or those policies, you will see her star wane very quickly.’

Likening your opponents to the Taliban is not a sign of how you intend to reunite the tribe and heal your party's wounds. Understandably, Labour is going through a period of catharsis at the moment and emotions are running high. But if Cooper and Burnham want to engage the public with this contest, slagging off your opponents before it has even properly begun is not the way to do it.

Plus, as the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush points out: if Cooper has any chance of winning, it will be by hoovering up the second preference votes — particularly from Liz Kendall. Being rude about her candidacy is not the way to keep her supporters on side.