Labour Leadership: Anti-Brexit Jess Phillips Drops Out as Race to Replace Jeremy Corbyn Narrows

British opposition Labour Party MP Jess Phillips speaks at a rally organised by the pro-European People's Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in Parliament Square, central London on March 23, 2019. - Hundreds of thousands of pro-Europeans from across Britain were expected to march through London on Saturday calling …
ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images

Jess Phillips has dropped out of the race to replace far-left Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party, after failing to secure endorsements from trade unions and a self-described “awful” performance at a recent husting.

The Labour leadership contest narrowed to four candidates following the announcement from MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Phillips who said that she is stepping aside from the race, bolstering the chances of current front runner Sir Keir Starmer.

In a statement, Ms Phillips said: “The Labour Party will need to select a candidate that can unite all parts of our movement. The union movement, the members, the elected representatives and I have to be honest with myself… that at this time that person isn’t me.”

Ms Phillips’ campaign has struggled to find support from the start after botching her position on Brexit, first claiming that she would “fight” to rejoin the European Union, before walking that statement back. The nail in her campaign’s coffin came at the first hustings of the campaign, in which she described her performance as “awful”.

“I was awful because I was trying to hit a million different lines and messages in 40 seconds. Some were my lines, some were other people’s, and it fell flat,” Phillips wrote in The Guardian.

Ms Phillips’ exit from the race is likely to strengthen Sir Keir Starmer’s support amongst Labour Party voters, as 60 per cent of Phillps’ supporters listed the shadow Brexit secretary as their second choice in the leadership race.

Sir Kier is the only candidate so far who has acquired the requisite nominations to secure a place in the final round of the contest. Were the election to be held today, Mr Starmer would win 53 per cent of first-ballot votes, according to a YouGov poll conducted for The Times, meaning he could win the election in the first round of voting.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Momentum-backed heir apparent to the socialist Corbynista wing of the party, is currently in second place. She is followed up by Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan, who on Tuesday secured a nomination from the GMB trade union, an endorsement that will likely secure Nandy a position in the final round of voting.

Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow secretary of state, Emily Thornberry, who currently sits last-place in the polls and has so far failed to secure a trade union nomination, said that she was “sorry” to see Jess Phillips leave the race.

“We need to broaden our debate, not narrow it, and force the two favourites to prove they’re up to the fight by pitting them against some real strength. Jess is a sad loss in that effort, but we will keep going,” said Ms Thornberry.

In a focus group conducted on Monday in Birmingham Northfield by The Times, Ms Phillips was seen as “one of us” by those surveyed, in stark contrast to the current frontrunners Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Ms Long-Bailey was described as a “female Corbyn” and Starmer was characterised as a “corporate” politician who “looked down on” working-class voters, with one voter saying that he is “just like David Cameron”.

The results of the focus group underscore the divide between the membership of the Labour Party who will select the next leader and the working-class voters who are needed to regain seats lost to Boris Johnson in the north and Midlands.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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