Thornberry defiant on Labour leadership hopes as she fights to stay in race

Stock image of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry. Picture: PA Images / Kirsty O'Connor

Stock image of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry. Picture: PA Images / Kirsty O'Connor - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Emily Thornberry has claimed she would 'frighten the life out of' Boris Johnson as Labour leader as she faces a tough fight to stay in the contest.

In what might be a last-ditch pitch to party members, the shadow foreign secretary accused the prime minister of having a "woman problem" and said she was the best candidate to take him on regularly in the House of Commons.

Her comments come in a showdown week for the contenders, after shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer became the first to be guaranteed a place on the final ballot paper.

He won the nomination from retail union Usdaw yesterday to add to his earlier shows of support from Unison and the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (Sera), an affiliate group.

The other four candidates are pitching to win the backing of the remaining big unions, which include Unite, GMB and the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

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Backbencher Jess Phillips is expected to update supporters on her campaign this afternoon amid speculation she could pull out of the race as she struggles to attract the required support.

She failed to turn up at a hustings at the GMB union this morning, although aides said this was due to her having an unavoidable appointment elsewhere.

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Unite's close links to the left of the party are said to make shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey the favourite for its tip.

Phillips' fellow backbencher Lisa Nandy is being touted as the front-runner for the support of the GMB, with its executives due to meet in London today to decide which of the five candidates to rally behind.

However, even if GMB does decide in Nandy's favour, the Wigan MP would still require another nomination from an affiliated group to get her through to the last round.

Candidates are required to have won the nomination of three Labour affiliates, including at least two unions, which amount to at least 5% of affiliate members.

The only other route on to the ballot paper is by receiving nominations from at least 5% of constituency Labour parties (CLPs), meaning Thornberry and Phillips face an uphill battle to ensure they continue in the race.

If they fail to win the support of a sizeable union, then they will need the nomination of 33 CLPs instead.

Thornberry was defiant about her chances, telling ITV's Good Morning Britain she remained "in this to win it".

Asked who she would vote for out of rivals Starmer and Long-Bailey if she did not make the final shortlist, she said: "I'm not getting into this. I'm in this to win it."

The Islington South and Finsbury MP argued that the party should be looking to elect a woman of her experience to the top job.

"It is an advantage to be a woman leader at this time because I think Boris Johnson has a woman problem, most definitely," she said.

"He certainly has a problem with me. I think the Labour Party should think about that."

She pointed out that Labour now had more women MPs than male representatives in Parliament, and said she was the candidate who would "frighten the life out of" Johnson at future Prime Minister's Questions.

All five contenders have agreed to take part in a televised debate on Channel 4 next month.

The hour-long programme will be hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy with a live audience asking questions.

It will take place on Monday, February 17 at 8pm - only a few days before members and others start to cast their vote.

The Labour membership surged, according to the Mirror, to more than 540,000 people ahead of Monday evening's sign-up deadline.

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