June 03, 2007

The Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party

The race for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party is quite an interesting one. Dave Cole has his assessment up of the latest political betting odds here and Vino has also offered some thoughts on the contest. But I thought it worth offering some thoughts of my own- even though the contest has barely started and these opinions may change. The problem though is that too many within the labour party are looking at the issue from an internal perspective- and I think its more worth looking at the issue from an external one- which candidate would best offer an option different to Gordon Brown. In my judgement John Prescott's deputy leadership was a success partly because he managed to do that for Tony Blair.

On that criterion despite being female and therefore obviously different, I think that both Hazel Blears and Harriet Harmon are ruled out. Both have been such loyalists and based their careers on being close to the leader of the moment that they ultimately would not add anything. Blears in particular as minister for the Today program has been an effective rebutter of attacks but seems always to be rebutting for the sake of rebutting the attack not of making an argument. Harmon's closeness to Brown and her weak performance as minister for social security hardly endear her to me as an option. Having said that she performed well in the debate that I saw on newsnight- surprisingly well- in which case she probably moves into third place in my thinking at the moment.

Peter Hain would be a plausible independent thinker- but my problem with Hain lies in the fact that he is a loose cannon. He makes silly comments. Furthermore he has rowed back politically from many of his original policy prescriptions- making naive attacks on President Bush when in 2003 he argued passionately that we should back President Bush's war. Alan Johnson likewise hasn't impressed me in his ministerial career so far- being responsible for a silly pensions deal with the public sector unions- it strikes me that such irrational exuberence may carry him too far.

The top two for me at the moment are Hillary Benn and Jon Cruddas. Benn came across on the Newsnight debate and comes across in general as a principled statesman- he has the bearing of someone who has ideas and can argue well, he still supports the Iraq war and hasn't rowed back though he acknowledges the problems with it- such a willingness to defend the decision that he took and to also acknowledge problems at the moment is attractive. Furthermore he seems generally to be thought of as a good minister as International Development Secretary- if not a good Foreign Secretary he seems to me to be a good candidate as a number two to Brown. Cruddas is a different kind of politician- a very interesting campaigning MP who doesn't want to be in the cabinet but wants to do interesting things with the Labour party- he offers a very new voice- again like Benn you get the idea of principle emerging but principle which is consistant with the broad approach of a Brown government so that Cruddas would be an addition to a Brown government.

That's my view at the moment- but as I say though I would at the moment rule out Hain and Blears- Harmon and Johnson both could emerge as good candidates for the job. For me at the moment Benn and Cruddas are the most impressive candidates- though whether they remain so or whether the Labour party membership share my thinking are other matters.


Caroline said...

Hope you'll go for Jon. Hilary Benn is great but what would be do as Deputy Leader? I can't imagine him coming out and campaigning on my local estates with me and that's what the cast majority of Labour party members want. Hilary should be given a big cabinet role as foriegn secreatry or something else. Jon cruddas is the only one campaigning who truly wants to win this role in order to rebuild the party. I hope you'll give him your first preference and Benn your second!

Gracchi said...

Caroline- not being a member I'd find it difficult to give any preference- but I can understand your views on Cruddas- I think he is a very good candidate. But we'll see how it all goes- afterall there is a lot of campaigning still to do for this role.

Vino S said...

Well, to some degree, the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party is honourific. However, i think that we do need someone to represent the opposite wing of the party to Brown to be deputy - to show that Labour can still remain a broad church.

So, instead of someone from the right of the party, like Johnson, Harman or Blears, we need someone from the left of the party. Although he is not traditionally seen as of the left, I think Cruddas is the one most likely to fit that role.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Good analysis, Gracchi. I rather like Blears but as you say she rebutts for the sake of it. Harmon has had it for me after her silly handbag comment. I'd go for Benn as he actually answers questions and seems genuinely caring but he doesn't have his Dad's charisma.

El Dave. said...

Echoes Welshcakes - v good.

One of the disadvantages for Cruddas in the Newsnight interview - in which I thought he did very well, btw - was that it was about policy. An amount of what he's talking about is internal party politics, democracy and administration, which are either unsexy or made so by bitching between different tribes within Labour.

If Blears were to win, I think she would continue as she is as Chair of the party, but with democratic legitimacy - which is bloody awful.

Hain, Johnson and Harman would be decorations that would feed through particular things to the leadership, so Hain as DL would see more done on Ireland, Wales and anti-racism, Johnson more on labour issues and Harman more on family and women's issues.

That's all very well and good, but I think decisions like that should be taken by conference, CLPs, policy fora and the National Policy Forum, not the deputy leader.

I think one of the attractions of Cruddas is that he would want to voice all the concerns of rank-and-file Labour activists and move the system to give more weight to what people 'on the ground' feel.

A lot of the running on this election - democratisation, involvement etc. - has come from Cruddas, so that this elections has been less about specific policies than general direction. A good example is the fourth option on council housing. Cruddas is in the position of being able to say that he supports it, the Conference has supported it for two or three years running, that it would be good for his area and that the leadership aren't listening (effectively).

Caroline - wrt Benn, I would like him to have a cabinet post, so don't want him to be DL.

It's obvious that I'm leaning towards Cruddas, but haven't made my mind up quite yet.

El Dave. said...


"Well, to some degree, the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party is honourific."

To date, yes. Cruddas could change that, and that would be a good thing.

"However, i think that we do need someone to represent the opposite wing of the party to Brown to be deputy"

Yes, and to represent all wings. This is about structures (in which the left might improve their situation and the ultra-left would be shown to be silly in some of their positions). If it's just an antidote to Brown, we'll have infighting.

" - to show that Labour can still remain a broad church."

Again, there are more than two wings.