Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Gordon is still the hot favourite

Amid all the speculation about possible Labour leadership contenders over recent days, some things are steadily becoming clearer.

There has inevitably been much excitement in the ultra-Blairite "Anyone But Gordon" camp at the prospects of Education Secretary Alan Johnson (pictured.) This always struck me as rather odd, however, as in no way could former trade union leader Johnson could be described as an ultra-Blairite.

Polly Toynbee makes the same point in today's Guardian. Johnson might well be a candidate, but will not be the candidate of the ultra-Blairite right. Furthermore, he is more interested in the deputy leadership than the leadership, although he will have Peter Hain for a rival.

Toynbee writes of Johnson: "He is too wise a politician to have this unsavoury, wrecking role thrust upon him. In fact, those who know him best say he will have none of it. So it seems certain he will only stand if some Blairite candidate stands first. In other words, he will not be their champion. But he might enter the race as a third force, intent on keeping the election clean, stopping it descending into internecine abuse. What's more, he would not enter the lists expecting to emerge as leader, but as a marker for his deputy leadership bid."

In a further blow for the ultras, David Miliband has again confirmed today that he will not be a candidate for either position, for the benefit of those who didn't believe him on the previous occasions on which he's said it.

So if Johnson won't be their candidate, and Miliband won't be a candidate at all, where does that leave the Blairites? With the somewhat unappetising choice of Reid (too much of a Scottish bruiser), Milburn (no support among MPs), Hutton (ditto, and lacks charisma) or Clarke (too prone to ill-considered outbursts after lunch.)

In other words, while Gordon undoubtedly did not help his chances during last week's shenanigans, I think the people who are predicting that he has blown it are getting slightly carried away.

As I said on PB.com last week, there is a fairly settled will among Labour Party members and the unions that it has got to be Gordon, and it would take an astonishing turnaround in mainstream party opinion for him to be denied the leadership at this late stage.

There is another point worth considering, and that is the fact that throughout Labour history, the party has almost always chosen the front-runner when electing a new leader.

In all but one of the Labour leadsership contests since the Second World War, the man who started out favourite has ended up winning comfortably: Hugh Gaitskell in 1955, Harold Wilson in 1963, James Callaghan in 1976, Neil Kinnock in 1983, John Smith in 1992, and Tony Blair in 1994.

The sole exception was in 1980 when Labour MPs, by a tiny margin of 139 votes to 129, chose the hapless Michael Foot over the greatest leader they never had, Denis Healey.

And that, with all due respect to Footie, is hardly a precedent that the party will want to repeat.

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Anonymous said...

Surely the main issue is not whether the Labour Party prefers Gordon Brown, but whether the electorate can stomach him?


Anonymous said...

Hmm, whatever I think, the electorate wud prefer AJ to Gordon.

Paul Linford said...

Adele - what evidence have you got for the above assertion?

Gareth said...

Favourite maybe, hot no.

Paul Linford said...


I would laugh my tits off if, in the light of your long campaign of attrition against Gordon, you ended up getting lumbered with Reid.

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

Why do you have this strange admiration for Mr Healey - are envy & incompetence really qualities which we should require of those aspiring to be a British Prime Minister ?

Perhaps you are too young to remember, but with Mr Healey as Chancellor, the British Economy ws brought to the point of collapse - his pointlessly vindictive taxation policies must have made a large contribution to this

He gloated that he would make the pips of the rich squeak - one suspects that the rich were well able to secure their wealth from the malicious greed of Mr Healey ... ordinary working families were not so fortunate as they had to pay income tax rates of 35% with national insurance on top

I have the honour to remain your obedient servant etc

G Eagle

MorrisOx said...

There may well be a 'settled will' among Labour about Gordon, but wise counsels will know that winning the leadership - however fraught - is the easy bit.

GB was under pressure last week, and what the public saw was a smiling asassin with feet of clay.

Blair has been trading on his wounded sentimental sincerity act (one he is very good at) ever since, and dimwits like Bob Crow are doing him a wonderful service in the eyes of those members of the public whose memories stretch back beyond the 1990s.

While I have to force myself to say it, GB is probably a brain and a half.

He is also a rank amateur when it comes to public performance, a faltering debater, and a bit of a resentful elephant. He has got to start supping with his enemies and learning how to perform.