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Angela Eagle pulls out of race for Labour leadership

By Andrew Woodcock

Labour is set for an all-male leadership contest after Angela Eagle withdrew to offer her support to Owen Smith as a "unity candidate" to take on Jeremy Corbyn.

Ms Eagle, who was first to challenge the Labour leader's position on July 11, stepped down after it became apparent that Pontypridd MP Mr Smith was set to outstrip her in the race for nominations from MPs and MEPs.

Mr Smith said he planned to work "side-by-side" with Ms Eagle in the contest, which ends on September 24, and would make her "my right-hand woman" if he was successful in ousting Mr Corbyn.

With 24 hours to go before today's 5pm deadline for nominations, former shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Smith had amassed the support of 88 MPs and two MEPs - easily passing the threshold of 51 required to get on to the ballot paper.

Among his backers were ex-leader Ed Miliband and former interim leader Dame Margaret Beckett, who last year said she had been a "moron" to nominate Mr Corbyn for the leadership to broaden the debate, without having any intention of voting for him.

A decision by Labour's ruling National Executive Committee means Mr Corbyn, as incumbent leader, did not have to gather nominations to take part in the current contest. Ms Eagle is understood to have secured enough nominations to join the race, but was expected to finish around 10 short of Mr Smith's tally.

It is thought her decision to withdraw early was taken to prevent the publication of names of her backers and so avoid the creation of rival anti-Corbyn camps.

Speaking at Westminster minutes before the publication of nominations, Wallasey MP Ms Eagle said that while there had been "quite a narrow gap" between her and Mr Smith, she concluded it was in Labour's best interests that she drop out. "We need to have a strong and united Labour Party so we can be a good Opposition, take the fight to the Conservative Government and heal our country," she said.

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