|* Paul Waugh|
Today’s the day Labour MPs try to work out just who they want as their ‘anyone but Corbyn’ candidate. And the good news for us hacks is that there is an early tee-off time. Up in Committee Room 14, General secretary Iain McNicol has a briefing at 12.30pm and the hustings between Angela Eagle and Owen Smith start at 1pm. No opening statement, questions from floor, then closing statement of 2 mins.
The pair of them invading each other’s personal space on the Marr sofa was pretty awks yesterday. But will either invade Jeremy Corbyn’s personal space among the party membership?
Although Eagle got the 51 MPs/MEPs nominations required to trigger a contest, it’s not clear such names will be made public. And if not, that will further give cover to those MPs tempted to peel off now to back Smith. There’s no such thing as gratitude in politics, so Eagle’s bravery in jumping first may not be rewarded if colleagues now see Smith as the better option.
Eagle has a clear pitch: her personal story as a working class gay woman (that ‘Daughter of a Seamstress’ line could become the new ‘My dad was a bus driver’), her trade union official background and her long experience as a minister and shadow minister. One of Eagle’s best lines privately has been “I knew what aspiration was before i knew what the word was”.
Smith has an equally clear pitch: as a ‘clean skin’, ‘new generation’ candidate who has loyally said he will back Corbyn if he loses. His launch in Pontypridd had him open-shirted, looking fresh and relaxed. He has new policy ideas, a new Clause 4 on inequality and is said to have double the number of backers Eagle does. For several Labour MPs, backing Smith may end up being the safer, default option to reduce the backlash among their local parties. But they may not relish having two blokes fighting it out to oppose a female PM.
In some ways Eagle’s candidacy is a curious mix of Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. The May in her is the ‘get on with it, no nonsense’, oven-ready leader, with bags of experience. The Leadsom in her may be the candidate who can’t attract the backing of more than a small minority of her fellow MPs. That may be an albatross too heavy to bear in a long race. If the numbers look difficult, it may be Eagle who ends up pulling out to give the party a binary choice. 'JC or not JC', that could be the question. It could also be her final act of sacrifice.
* Paul Waugh Is The Executive Editor, HuffPost, UK.