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Emily Thornberry confirms bid to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader

The shadow foreign secretary is the first Labour figure to formally announce a bid for the top job.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

By Sam Blewett, Gavin Cordon, and Patrick Daly, PA Political Staff

Labour’s Emily Thornberry has declared her candidacy to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as she revealed that she warned the leader it would be an act of “catastrophic political folly” to back the doomed election.

The shadow foreign secretary on Wednesday became the first candidate to formally announce they are running to replace Mr Corbyn as the party tries to recover from its worst general election result since 1935.

Others including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy have signalled they are considering a bid, while key Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey is seen as the choice of the current leadership.

The race to replace Mr Corbyn following the electoral disaster comes amid a battle over the future identity of the party, with former prime minister Tony Blair criticising Labour for going into the contest with a “strategy for defeat”.

Ms Thornberry, the Remain-backing MP for Islington South and Finsbury, was highly critical of the Labour leadership for backing Boris Johnson’s call for an election on Brexit.

“I wrote to the leader’s office warning it would be ‘an act of catastrophic political folly’ to vote for the election, and explained exactly why we should not go along with it,” she wrote in an article for The Guardian.

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Emily Thornberry at the count at Sobell Leisure Centre for the Islington North and South constituencies (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I argued that the single issue of Brexit should not be enough to give Johnson a five-year mandate to enact his agenda on every issue. Instead, I said we should insist on a referendum on his proposed deal, to get the issue of Brexit out of the way before any general election.”

At the time, Labour was widely seen as having been forced to vote with the Prime Minister’s demand for an election because the Liberal Democrats had signalled their support.

Though she was critical of Labour under Mr Blair, she praised it for having “political insight and absolute clarity of purpose” as she urged the party not to battle over ideology, its Brexit position, North or South, or between men and women.

“So when the Labour leadership contest begins, whoever is standing – and I hope to be one of the candidates – the first question shouldn’t be about their position on Brexit, or where they live in our country,” she wrote.

Ms Thornberry, a former barrister, said Labour should fight on pledges for the elderly, on housing, unemployment and child poverty.

Sir Keir confirmed he was “seriously considering” his own run a day earlier as he warned Labour must not “oversteer” away from the left-wing politics of Mr Corbyn.

In a clear attempt to distance himself from the legacy of Mr Blair, he said the party could not afford to go back to “some bygone age” and backed its current “anti-austerity” stance.

The leadership positioning came as Mr Blair, the only Labour leader to have won a general election in the last 45 years, delivered a crushing verdict on the election performance.

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Tony Blair, delivering a speech in London, has blamed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour’s election defeat (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Blair laid the blame firmly at the door of Mr Corbyn, saying he had pursued a policy of “almost comic indecision” on Brexit which managed to alienate both sides of the debate.

“I believe with different leadership we would have kept much of our vote in traditional Labour areas,” he said in a speech in London, as he criticised Mr Corbyn’s “brand of quasi-revolutionary socialism”.

Mr Corbyn also came under attack when he addressed a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Tuesday, with a number of MPs blaming him for the dire election performance.

However, Sir Keir, who is seen as coming from a more centrist tradition than the Labour leader, said it would be a mistake to simply abandon his radicalism.

What Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Labour Party was a change in emphasis that was really important – a radicalism that matters Sir Keir Starmer

“What Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Labour Party in 2015 was a change in emphasis that was really important – a radicalism that matters,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper said she was also considering a leadership bid, having unsuccessfully stood against Mr Corbyn in 2015.

She suggested the party needed to move away from the politics of both Mr Corbyn and Mr Blair if it was to win back the support of “patriotic” older voters who abandoned it for the Tories.

“We cannot just become a party that is concentrated in cities, with our support increasingly concentrated in diverse, young, fast-moving areas while older voters in towns think we aren’t listening to them,” she told the Today programme.

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