Labour MP Diane Abbott brands Angela Eagle the 'Empire Strikes Back candidate' for Jeremy Corbyn's throne
Angela Eagle has been branded the “Empire Strikes Back candidate” by one of Jeremy Corbyn's closest allies, as she prepares to launch her bid to topple the Labour leader.
In the first direct shot in the leadership campaign battle, Diane Abbott said Labour members faced a “clear political choice” because Ms Eagle voted in favour of the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Mr Corbyn has refused to quit as leader despite more than 60 Labour MPs resigning their frontbench positions in an attempt to force him out and an overwhelming vote of no confidence.
Former shadow business secretary Ms Eagle will today formally launch her Labour leadership bid with a pledge to “save” the party from demise at the hands of Mr Corbyn.
Yesterday she said she regretted her former stance on Iraq in the wake of the damning Chilcot report into the war and would vote differently today.
She also failed to outline her policy differences with Mr Corbyn – but argued she wanted to fight for the leadership on the issue of electability.
Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, Shadow Health Secretary Ms Abbott said: “As for Angela Eagle, she is a perfectly nice woman but what she is is the Empire Strikes Back candidate.
“She voted for the Iraq war and more besides. At the very least, if she runs, party members will be offered a clear political choice.”
The attack is a reference to the Star Wars film, in which villain Darth Vader makes gains on the virtuous Rebel Alliance by capturing the friends of protagonist and hero Luke Skywalker.
Meanwhile Ms Abbott assured that Mr Corbyn could win a general election and insisted victory was “everything” to her constituents.
She was countering a claim from Jon Lansman, the founder of pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum, who said winning elections mattered to "political elites".
And responding to concerns the current turmoil could split the party, as happened with the SDP in 1981, Ms Abbott countered: “I went through the whole SDP era. Let me tell you – there will be no split.”
Ms Eagle said this morning she wanted to "make the Labour party relevant again" as she prepared to launch her challenge after talks to ease Mr Corbyn out of his role broke down.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, she added: "The Labour party needs to be saved.
“I'm stepping up to the plate to say it's about time that we did this so we can make the Labour party relevant again and so we can contend for government.”
But a huge row is being teed up between Mr Corbyn, his supporters and the rest of the party over whether he would automatically be on the ballot paper in a leadership contest.
It has been suggested that Mr Corbyn would need to find the support of 51 Labour MPs in order to be on the ballot, as Neil Kinnock did in 1988 when he was challenged by Tony Benn.
The decision on whether he would be automatically on the ballot or would need to seek nominations from colleagues will be decided in the coming days by the party's National Executive Committee.
Yesterday the leader suggested he might take legal action against the NEC if it rules against him.