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Emily Thornberry’s leadership pitch: Corbynism, but neater

22 January 2020

7:37 PM

22 January 2020

7:37 PM

Emily Thornberry is the straggler in the Labour leadership contest. Unlike Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy, she’s not going to get on the ballot with trade union nominations. She currently only has two nominations from constituency Labour parties, and doesn’t poll well with members. She needs a breakthrough moment – or at least an explanation of why she’s standing.

This evening she had her grilling with Andrew Neil, where she struggled once again to explain how she would take the Labour Party on a different course, away from its catastrophic election defeat. Her main pitch seems to be that a Thornberry-led party would be Corbynism but without the disorganisation. She told Neil she wanted a pledge card which showed the party’s priorities and that she wanted to make Southside, the party’s headquarters in London, ‘an election fighting machine first and foremost’. The manifesto was ‘far too ambitious’, she said, adding that the first pledge on her card would be on social care. When Neil pointed out that integrating social care is already party policy, Thornberry argued that ‘what is distinctive is having priorities’. The way the party can win would be through ‘strong leadership’ and a ‘competent and clear Labour Party’, she said. She even claimed that her flaw was that she grew too impatient with people who were disloyal, which is even better than the ‘I work too hard’ that some people spout in job interviews.


There are some differences between Corbyn and Thornberry. She later backed re-nationalisation of rail and Royal Mail, though she stopped short of threatening other utilities with going back into public ownership. She also said Trident renewal was ‘too far down the line’ to stop now, despite previously suggesting Britain should not have a nuclear deterrent. And she said she didn’t see the need to change the current system for re-nominating MPs – in contrast to Long-Bailey, who has said she backs open selections.

But the interview largely underlined why Thornberry is struggling. She may well have been impatient with disloyalty to Corbyn while he was leader, but since this contest began, she has been even more impatient to talk about how she disagreed with him on anti-Semitism, the timing of the election, and other matters. This risks confusing members who still like Corbyn a lot: after all, if they just want a slightly better-organised and articulated version of the outgoing leader’s politics, why not plump for Long-Bailey?


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