Monday, June 14, 2010

Labour's leadership conundrum

A break from my memoirs to discuss the Labour leadership contest. Now this is important to all of us for two reasons.

Firstly, it is possible that the winner will be our next Prime Minister so we must take it seriously. Secondly, it is important for any government to have an effective opposition to scrutinise it and keep it on its toes.

Labour party members must ask two questions – who will provide this effective opposition to the government and who is the most likely to win for Labour at the next general election?

Who do we have in the running? The first surprise is who is not running. I thought Alan Johnson had the gravitas and ability to help Labour recover from their defeat and provide tough opposition to David Cameron. And Harriet Harman struck me as someone quite ambitious. I don’t think she would have won, but it was a surprise not to see her have a go. Neither of them are likely to get another chance so presumably now have no ambitions to be Prime Minister.

The favourite is obviously David Miliband who seems to have been the leader in waiting almost as long as Gordon Brown was. He is the choice of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, who, between them, have run the party for the last 25 years, and will both be powerful allies for him.

Some members may feel they need to move away from New Labour – hence his expression of Next Labour – whatever that means.

Ed Balls is quickly moving away from the Brown government – distancing himself on Iraq and immigration. It was a bit harsh though for the PM to compare him to Alf Garnett – as we discovered during the campaign that immigration was an issue causing a lot of concern. He would be an interesting choice, close to the Brown view, but like David M, he would suffer from being a central part of the last government when the election comes round.

Ed Miliband, although in the cabinet, was not a senior member so may not have this problem. I gather his bandwagon is gaining speed and the effect on his brother must be considered. Have you ever had a work colleague at a lower level suddenly promoted above you? That is how David will feel if the person who has always been his younger brother then becomes his boss.

Watching the hustings it was slightly uncomfortable seeing Ed have a go at his brother – rather like watching a married couple arguing.

Apologies to Andy Burnham but I don’t know enough about you to comment. He seems to be well liked by some Labour MPs.

Let’s face it, we all love Diane Abbott. I am pleased she was able to get in the contest as she is a real wild card and will bring something different to the table. I don’t think Diane has a chance of winning but may well have an effect on the result. She is the oldest candidate, has been an MP the longest, is very well known, is not associated with the last government, and will have a lot of grass roots support. Her inclusion will provoke a real debate about the future direction of the party which will make it interesting for us observers.

So who will win? The winner’s name will be Miliband, or Ed, or both! I would put my money on David Miliband but I don’t think he is someone we should be afraid of.

A problem for Labour is that the party has recently been so dominated by the Blair-Brown partnership that the candidates are struggling to come out of the shadows. Have you ever heard a ‘bring-the-house-down’ speech by David Miliband or won over by the character of Ed Balls? This may not be a problem – how many of us had heard of David Cameron in 2005? – and he (or she) would have five years to get themselves known.

But the first duty of the new leader will be to make a name for himself – and fast!

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