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PBC Guest slot: Introducing “Red Sky” – a “shy” Labour MP

May 27th, 2006

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    Who’ll succeed John Prescott as Deputy Leader?

You’ve heard of shy Tory voters. Well, I’m a shy Labour MP who’s been reading the site for a while. While Nick Palmer and to some extent Stewart Jackson seem willing to post under their own names with reckless abandon, most MPs are reticent about accumulating a trail of comments that can be dug up years later.

And I don’t have the time for the running battles that most of you seem to enjoy, so I shan’t often post. But here are a few thoughts that may be of interest to you punters.

The first question is whether there will be a contest. John P doesn’t need to stand down as Deputy Leader, and if he chooses not to, there’s unlikely to be a challenge before the next General Election.

    Most people reckon he’ll go when Tony goes, which I reckon is likely to be in 2007. Still, if you get the chance to bet on John still being there in 2009 and get odds of 4-1, it’s worth a punt.

Assuming he does call it a day, who are we likely to see standing? Alan Johnson has let it be known that he will, and he’s probably the closest we’ll see to an officially-blessed candidate. Tony rates him very highly, and Gordon is OK with him too.

Harriet Harman will stand if there is no other strong female candidate, which seems quite likely. At one stage Tessa Jowell was seen as a likely candidate, but now probably not. Hazel Blears is an outside possibility, and would be a competitor with Alan for official blessing. There is a significant number of women MPs who will instinctively rally to any strong woman candidate, and who see a ‘balanced ticket’ in gender terms as very important.

What if members want someone who is a bit less on-message than all of these? The Campaign Group is not optimistic about getting the necessary 44 signatures, but it’s probable that Peter Hain will throw his hat in the ring. He is known as somewhat greener and somewhat lefter than most Cabinet Ministers without getting into head-banging territory, and his Northern Ireland role gives him scope to show it, on issues as diverse as grammar schools and nuclear reactors.

Other possibilities include Jack Straw, who is seen as more dovish than most on foreign policy, John Denham, who would be popular with members who were actively opposed to Iraq, and Hilary Benn, who has the dual advantage of a hugely popular job and the family name. However, it’s not clear that any of these are interested, and Benn and Denham are both known to have declined offers of new Ministerial jobs that would have broadened their range of contacts.

Labour elects its leaders through an electoral college, with the PLP, unions and individual members each ‘weighted’ as a third. How would the above fare?

Johnson is likely to get a large chunk of the PLP. He has few enemies, and people see him as a safe pair of hands at a time when solid competence is needed more than anything else. Tories foam at the mouth about his compromise with the public sector unions, but Labour MPs see it as a sensible deal. Harman would get a respectable vote, especially women MPs but also those who remember her civil liberties background and admire her intellect. Blears would take a chunk of the women’s vote and a chunk of the Blair loyalists too. Hain would get most of the left, many of the Welsh MPs, and the quite significant green vote.

What about the unions? Johnson is the obvious choice as a former union leader, but it ain’t as simple as that. Harman’s husband’s TGWU connections give her a useful “in”, and Hain would appeal to leaders like Derek Simpson who want to see new policies as well as new faces.

The wider membership is very hard to call. Many of the most critical members have left, so a hard-core rebel would have limited support, but members too would like to see policy renewal, and Johnson’s establishment blessing isn’t necessarily an advantage with the wider membership.

So at this stage it’s pretty open. There is a limit to how many people can get 44 signatures, since the more senior MPs aren’t going to be endorsing anyone publicly. We’ll probably see a field of three or four. Johnson will start as favourite, but if you get decent odds on Harman or Hain they are worth backing, as they are likely to harden up.

How much does this matter to the political scene? More than you’d think, because Gordon is unlikely to be opposed at all, so this is how Labour’s members are going to show which way they want the party to go. Watch this space!

Red Sky is a Labour MP

Note from Mike Smithson: As yet, as far as I can see, there are no betting markets on the next Deputy Labour leader. PB.C welcomes guest contributors like Red Sky’s who have something interesting to say and who do not, for whatever reason, want their identities revealed. The only condition is that I need to know who is behind pieces that are published here.






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