Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has called a truce in her campaign’s spat with her rival Andy Burnham, but has made clear she will not tolerate “sexist” claims that her tactics are being driven by her husband and former shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
After tensions erupted between the campaigns on Monday, Cooper took issue with a source in Burnham’s campaign for suggesting that her tactics were “straight out of the Ed Balls playbook”.
“This is going back almost to the days of the suffragettes,” she said. “They said about the suffragettes they couldn’t do things because of things their husbands have done. It is a bit more 1915 than 2015.”
But later, Cooper sought to move on from the row, as she told the website PoliticsHome that the candidates had “got to start focusing on the choice and the ideas that we have got”.
She added: “Everybody is fed up of discussions in a vortex in the Westminster bubble. What people want to know is who can lead the party.”
Burnham described as disappointing and strange Cooper’s calls for him to withdraw from the leadership race if he was not prepared to oppose their rival Jeremy Corbyn. Burnham added that he now wanted to “get on to the positive, and take the debate head on”.
Frustrations broke into the open as Cooper and Burnham compete to be seen as the main competition to Corbyn, who is the frontrunner following a surge of grassroots enthusiasm for his leftwing politics. Each side claimed to have the only chance of beating Corbyn and suggested the other should back off in their campaign.
Sources in the camps of Liz Kendall and Corbyn both say they believe Burnham is in second position. But Peter Kellner, the YouGov pollster, said he thought it was too close to tell who was in second place and even sounded less certain than before that Corbyn would win.
After a YouGov poll last week showed Corbyn with 53% of the vote, Kellner said he would be “personally astonished” if the frontrunner did not win. But speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on Tuesday, he said: “A week ago Jeremy Corbyn, in my view, was comfortably ahead. Is he now? I don’t know.”
Jonathan Reynolds, a shadow minister who supports Kendall but has called for the party now to rally round Burnham, said he thought the race was closer than people might think but agreed that Corbyn was currently in front.
“I think support for Jeremy is pretty genuine. It’s not just about entryism or affiliates,” he said. “I have people in my area who voted for David Miliband last time who are voting for Jeremy this time. He has captured something. There is a sense that he offers a hopeful message and people are finding it difficult maybe to accept how the [general] election result went down.
“Clearly, there are only two outcomes. These are Jeremy first or Jeremy second. It’s not being completely overplayed. But I do hope as the ballots arrive, people really think about [their choice], because however romantically they might feel about this, there is some hard reality behind what might happen if we pick Jeremy to be the leader. So I do hope people might be thinking twice at that moment.”
Corbyn remains the favourite with the bookmakers and one of them, Paddy Power, is already paying out a six-figure sum on bets that he will win, saying it is a “done deal”.
A number of Labour modernisers are already beginning to think about what might happen if Corbyn wins the race and moves Labour to the left.
Kendall, the Blairite candidate, warned on Tuesday that more must be done to challenge the accusation online by some Corbyn supporters that mainstream Labour MPs were Tories or “Tory-lite”. She said allowing this narrative to take hold “isn’t just a misguided insult – it is an enormous strategic mistake”.
Her opinion was backed up by Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister. “Calling modernisers’ ideas either Tory or Tory-lite or anything like that isn’t just wrong in itself, it’s a huge mistake for the Labour party because it shuts off thinking about new solutions and we should never be in a position of doing that,” he said.
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