Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's political balance that matters

With the Labour Deputy Leadership Contest now coming to the boil, there has been much talk over the last 24 hours of who will make the best "partner" for Gordon Brown. The clear view of Alan Johnson is that he would because he comes from a working-class background in London as opposed to Gordon's middle-class Scottish upbringing.

The clear analogy being drawn here is with the Tony Blair-John Prescott partnership, with Prescott himself now publicly backing his fellow Hull MP's bid to succeed him.

But Johnson and Co are missing the point. Blair-Prescott was not the successful partnership that it was on account of the fact that Prezza is "working class." It is because, politically, Prescott represented a different strand of the Labour movement from Blair, enabling the party's traditional supporters to feel as if they had a voice at the top table, even if this wasn't always necessarily the case.

Similarly, Harriet Harman is wrong to stress, as she has done on a number of occasions, the importance of gender-balance in the selection of a leadership team. It's certainly important that women are well-represented in Gordon's Cabinet - and with Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint set for big promotions, they will be - but you don't have to have a female deputy leader to appeal to women voters.

No, it's political balance that counts, which is why I am of the view that neither Harman, nor Johnson, nor Hilary Benn would necessarily be the best candidates on offer. All of them are virtually ideologically indistinguishable from Gordon, and none of them can genuinely claim to have carved out a distinctive policy agenda.

The Labour Party could, if it wanted to, achieve a sort of "balance" by electing the uber-Blairite candidate, Hazel Blears, but that would merely give it a balance between New Labour's own tribal factions, ignoring the large swathe of party members who see themselves as neither New Labour nor Old Labour, just Labour.

If the party is looking for a more meaningful balance between the New Labour "right" and what I call the "sensible left," then the two candidates who would offer the best counterpoint to Gordon are Peter Hain and Jon Cruddas.

Hain looks certain to get on the ballot paper, Cruddas slightly less so, but whichever of them eventually emerges as the standard bearer of the disenfranchised mainstream left in this election is the one who will get my support.

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Anonymous said...

As a Cruddas fan, I am delighted he's in your top two. He IS going to get on the ballot paper so I hope Jon will have your support.

Toque said...

New Labour supporters better hope that it's Cruddas because he's respected by people outside the party.

Peter Hain, on the other hand, is almost universally loathed and comes across as a creepy arrogant and obnoxious git.

I'd vote for 10 more years of Blair before I voted for Hain.

HenryG said...

'...whichever of them eventually emerges as the standard bearer of the disenfranchised mainstream left in this election is the one who will get my support.'

A few observations to keep in mind:

Jon Cruddas has the most support from Labour backbenchers (and was nominated by the PLP Chair Tony Lloyd) - this will help give them a voice at the table. He
has taken a number of alternative positions which Hain hasn't:

Greater protection for migrant workers and an amnesty for unregularised immigrants, opposing top-up fees in parliament, defending the role of faith within politics, rebelling against renewing trident, for more social housing including council housing and calling for PCTs to provide a health inequality indices.

The big thrust of his campaign is around re-enfranchising members, democratising the party and defending the role of trade unions in party funding and policy-making.

However one of the most impressive aspects of his campaign has been providing an alternative electoral analysis of winning elections without excessively pandering to the prejudice of Daily Mail readers. This article in yesterday's Guardian hits the nail on the head for me.


The ultimate clincher for me is that he isn't seeking to be DPM but a full-time 'transmission belt' between the party and Government. He won't hold a ministerial portfolio but would attend political cabinet meetings.

Peter Hain has played a positive role in Northern Ireland, along with the many Northern Ireland Secretaries and Prime Ministers Major and Blair. He also played an important role against apartheid thirty-five years ago. But what would he offer in Cabinet that he couldn't already? As Austin Mitchell writes on his blog about why he's supporting Cruddas:

'We need someone to rebuild the Party rather than ponce around as Deputy PM.'

Cruddas is a fresh face and is also backed by centre-left Compass and the newspaper Tribune, which last week summed it up:

'Jon Cruddas has already proven to be the change that is required.'