Jess Phillips quits Labour leadership race

Kate Proctor and Rajeev Syal

Jess Phillips has pulled out of the Labour leadership contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn, saying she is not the person to unite the party.

Her decision, two weeks into the campaign, came as she failed to secure any union or affiliate backing, although she secured 23 nominations from MPs to put her into the latest phase of the contest.

Earlier on Tuesday, Phillips did not attend a hustings organised by the GMB union, leading to speculation her campaign was faltering.

In a message to supporters, the MP for Birmingham Yardley said: “The Labour party will need to select a candidate who can unite all parts of our movement, the union movement, members and elected representatives. And I have to also be honest with myself, as I said I always would be throughout this campaign.

The first stage of the contest was for potential contenders to get the backing of 22 fellow MPs by 13 January. Five MPs passed this threshold: Keir Starmer (68 nominations),  Rebecca Long-Bailey (26), Lisa Nandy (26), Jess Phillips (22) and Emily Thornberry (10).

The second stage requires each contender to win the support either of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs); or of three affiliates, two of which must be unions, and which between them account for at least 5% of the affiliated membership. This must be achieved before 14 February.

The ballot of members and registered supporters opens a week later on 21 February, and closes at noon on 2 April. To be eligible to vote you must have been a Labour member on 20 January, or have applied to have become a £25 registered support by 16 January.

Corbyn’s successor will be announced at a special conference in London on 4 April.

“At this time, that person is not me. In order to win the country, we are going to have to find a candidate, in this race, who can do all of that, and then take that message out to the country.”

She thanked her supporters and said the tens of thousands of people who had signed up to vote in the election should get a say in the race.

She said: “I want to say to those people: this is not the end. It’s the beginning.”

Her rival Keir Starmer is expected to pick up a share of party members’ votes that would have gone to Phillips had she ended up on the final ballot paper.

She did not say who she would back in the leadership race.

A source said that when she spoke at a campaign event at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London on Monday night, they sensed there were problems with the campaign.

“It felt like she was giving her own elegy. It was the sort of speech that Liz Kendall was giving in month three of the last leadership campaign but it’s week three,” he said.

“I did wonder if something was up. She was saying the important thing was to go through it, so that people like me and people who sound like me can go for leader.”

Phillips scraped over the line to get the nominations needed to get to the second phase of the leadership debate with the backing of 23 MPs, including herself. She has been described as being on the right of the party by opponents.

Among those who backed her were Wes Streeting, who was running her campaign, Liz Kendall, Margaret Hodge, Neil Coyle and Chris Bryant. Early polling had put her in third place behind Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey.