The one memorable moment from last night’s Labour leadership debate was Liz Kendall’s remark that ‘country should come first’, with regards to another leadership contest before 2020. It was a swipe at Andy Burnham, who had said that the ‘party should come first.’ Team Kendall is understandably pleased at the Vines and clips of this exchange. It has given her campaign some crucial momentum and ensures that the contest remains a three-horse race.
In a debate that was otherwise pretty uneventful, this exchange is likely to stick with both Burnham and Kendall. But a source on Burnham’s campaign suggests that the remark has been misinterpreted: ‘Andy clearly meant “party before individuals and candidates.” Liz tried to score a cheap point by taking it out of context.’
One of the reasons Team Burnham may be sensitive about it is because it’s his second gaff of the campaign, after he was booed at the GMB hustings for failing to directly answer a question on reducing the benefits cap to £23k. Despite this, Burnham is still the front-runner — Ladbrokes now have him evens to be next leader, while Yvette Cooper is on 5/2 and Liz Kendall on 3/1.
While some on the right are warming to Kendall and the audiences are clapping Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message, it’s the party’s grassroots that matter in this contest. The first of the regional hustings is taking place in Stevenage this weekend. There are scores of such events planned over the next few months. Although the televised debates inform the media and general public about the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, they won’t sway the people who will be the next leader.
Update: A source on the Kendall campaign gets in touch about the comments above to point out that Burnham will have get to used to being beaten, if he becomes Labour leader: ‘You don’t get to say something’s unfair when you get beat at PMQs.’