'She's very principled': Lisa Nandy wins over public at hustings

Helen Pidd, Gregory Robinson , Josh Halliday and Amy Walker

Lisa Nandy emerged as the narrow favourite at the Guardian’s Labour leadership hustings in Manchester, with many Labour members saying they were switching their vote from Keir Starmer after hearing the Wigan MP speak.

Cath White, who is clinical director of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre at Saint Mary’s hospital in Manchester, said she had changed her mind. “I was for Keir but now it’s Lisa. I think she’s obviously very principled and I think she has a lot of steel in her as well. She doesn’t seem frightened.”

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 (88 nominations),  Rebecca Long-Bailey (33), Lisa Nandy (31), Jess Phillips (23) and Emily Thornberry (23).

The second stage required each contender to win the support either of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs); or of three affiliates, two of which had to be unions, and which between them accounted for at least 5% of the affiliated membership. This had to be achieved before 14 February. Jess Phillips withdrew from the contest on 21 January. Emily Thornberry failed to attract the required number of members.

The ballot of members and registered supporters was due to open 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 supporter by 16 January.

Corbyn’s successor - Starmer, Long-Bailey or Nandy - will be announced at a special conference in London on 4 April.

Michael Sheridan-Warburton, 22, said the evening’s hustings had also persuaded him to vote for Nandy, and not just because he is from Warrington, where Nandy said she would relocate Labour headquarters.

That pledge earned her a huge round of applause, along with her promise to end the “factional war that was pulling Labour apart” and working from the ground-up in former “red wall” towns.

“I like the idea about an activist party, it’s sort of a romantic notion,” said Sheridan-Warburton, who added that although he was a “crazy Commy”, Rebecca Long-Bailey had failed to win him over. “Her body language is different to the other two on the stage, she comes from the Jeremy school of oratory,” he added. “She speaks like a school teacher.”

Joey Ross-Macdonald, 18, also arrived thinking she’d vote for Starmer, but was impressed by the “care and conviction” with which Nandy spoke. “She seems like she genuinely wants to do right by people and her party,” she said.

Another former Starmer fan, Jess Fowle, 51, said she had been won over by Nandy’s “compassion”. “She had passion, clarity and tons of policies,” said Fowle, adding that she had found Starmer’s answers in comparison to be “disappointing and general”.

Related: Labour leadership Manchester hustings: the best and the worst

Beforehand, Tony Proctor, 64, had not been paying attention to the leadership election. But he too had been won over by Nandy’s willingness to say “what people may not want to hear”.

“You have got to get back to the grassroots. She’s also not afraid to say that she disagrees with people in the shadow cabinet like Diane Abbott,” said Proctor. At the hustings, Nandy claimed the shadow home secretary had said that Brexit voters were either “too stupid to read the question” or “xenophobic”.

Kylie Langley, 44, agreed: “For me Lisa was the strongest and she’ll be getting my vote. I loved hearing about her backstory and her Indian background. She’s also a really good speaker. I liked Keir, he’s a lot better in person. I think living in the north you need people who are going to keep us in mind when making the big decisions and I think she’ll be the one to do it.”

Jim Hancock, 71, a former journalist, said he believed Starmer would win the contest but that Nandy got his vote. “Lisa Nandy spoke very well. She cuts through,” he said. “Her lines on devolution … I know it’s quite boring but I think her answers were quite important because Labour hasn’t really had a proper devolution policy since John Prescott and that’s one of the reasons they lost the north.”

The lawyer Alex Jane, 49, was not a fan of Rebecca Long-Bailey, whom she dismissed as “underwhelming and scripted”. She said: “I can’t bear to hear her say ‘aspiration’. Keir Starmer was better than expected. He needs to loosen up and show a bit more personality and warmth. Lisa Nandy was imaginative and I think she’s winning my vote but I want her to do a job share with Keir Starmer.”

Not everyone was a Nandy convert. Danny Gregson, 22, said he was most impressed with Long-Bailey. “I was pleased when she mentioned the need to build 100,000 new council houses, and the ‘green new deal’, which I am a big fan of. I didn’t like the way Lisa kept referring back to Wigan again and again. And I don’t think she came across as strongly as the others. I liked Keir but I’m not going to vote for him as we need someone who is not from London.”