Labour leadership battle in full swing as hopefuls criticise government's response to Middle East crisis

Stephanie Cockroft
Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images

The battle to succeed Jeremy Corbyn was in full swing today as the would-be Labour leaders hit out at the government's handling on the Iran crisis in a round of interviews to kick-start their campaigns.

Sir Keir Starmer, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry all appeared on Sunday's political shows to make their pitches and bolster their credentials over the crisis in the Middle East.

They also criticised the scale of Jeremy Corbyn's radical proposals, and spoke of a lack of "trust" in the Labour Party, as they set out their stalls to succeed him and recover from the disastrous election defeat.

Shadow minister Clive Lewis is also standing but did not appear on the Sunday morning shows.

There was also no sign of shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, who has not yet declared she is standing, despite hinting that she intended to do so.

Sir Keir Starmer and Jess Phillips speak to one another while appearing on the Andrew Marr show (Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images)

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Kier Starmer, who yesterday became the fifth person to announce he was running , said he would be questioning the legality of the US strike which killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani because it was a "very serious situation" and could be "the first act of war."

He also criticised Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for failing to "press America" on "making sure there's a viable case for what happens next."

Sir Keir, the current favourite in the race, told the BBC Andrew Marr Show that "unquestionably, blindly following Americans is the wrong thing to do".

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, another leadership candidate, said she was "really concerned" about the situation in the Middle East which she said "could escalate into all out war".

She told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "I think this is a really dangerous moment for the entire world, and for Britain in particular.

"What we should see is a Prime Minister who, to be honest, should have already recalled Parliament to explain what his strategy is, how he's going to try and work with our European allies to try and de-escalate the situation."

Ms Nandy described Donald Trump's air strike as a "reckless unilateral action", adding: "I think we potentially have a really, really dangerous and permanent situation that could escalate into all-out war unless the world leaders step up and speak with one voice and try to make sure that we take a multi-lateral approach to try and calm the situation."​

Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry warned of a "lurch towards war" because of Mr Trump's "reckless" decision to kill General Soleimani.

Also appearing on the Sky show, she said: "To take him out at this stage when there has been escalating tensions seems to me to be not making the world safer, actually we are taking a major lurch towards war. And we are doing that because the president is reckless and hasn't thought through what it is he is doing.

"But it seems to me quite clear that the Iranians are going to counter-attack and it means that our interests, our people, our forces are, of course, under threat."

Ms Thornberry also criticised Mr Trump for failing to notify the UK before carrying out the fatal drone strike.

"He didn't even tell us before he agreed for this man to be killed in Baghdad," she told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

Prominent backbencher Mr Phillips, who also appeared on the Andrew Marr show, said she was "shocked to hear Dominic Raab backing Trump all the way over the assassination of Soleimani".

She added: "Ministers should be honest - it was reckless and dangerous and there seems to be no plan in place for what will follow. The PM should be in the UK urging restraint."

Asked on the show whether she would "always be marching against a potential war", the MP for Birmingham Yardley - who campaigned against the war in Iraq - said she would "absolutely take action to protect British lives" if there is a "moral and legal case".

Labour's ruling National Executive Committee will meet on Monday to set the timetable for the contest, which is then expected to formally start on Tuesday.

The new leader is expected to be in place by the end of March.