Saturday, 16 June 2007

Time to make a choice...the Labour Party deputy leadership campaign

My two ballot papers for the Labour party deputy leadership contest arrived in the post exactly a week ago. I still haven't sent them off. But, after a week more of reflection, hustings and televised debates I'm going to make the following choices.

1. Hilary Benn
2. Jon Cruddas
3. Harriet Harman
4. Alan Johnson
5. Peter Hain
6. Hazel Blears.

Benn really made an impression on me at a conference in February, and I feel swayed enough to give him my support. There's a lot of passion there, some great ideas to change the party and a real sense of optimism. He really seems to believe in politics, and the ability of the Labour party to change the world through its ideology and values. I hint a touch of Blair in the way he addresses people in his speeches, never a bad thing as far as the media are concerned.

He doesn't try to make any secret of the way he's voted in the past for example. I'm not happy with the fact he voted for the war, but at least unlike Harman, who will get my third choice, he is honest about his beliefs and doesn't try to make political capital about the situation there now.

Cruddas is doing very well, and has brought so much to the debate. As an orator, he's gained confidence in public. He voted for the war too, but he's now making welcome contributions to the housing debate and really excellent ideas on how to re-invigorate our party. He recognises that the fact the party has lost 200,000 members we've lost since 1997 is a real issue. I don't think any of the other candidates have really understood this. I'd trust Cruddas as our campaigner in chief.

Harriet Harman comes across as patronising, too middle-class and ideologically inconsistent. Supposedly courting the 'soft' left, she's also proud to have sent her children to a grant-maintained school - never the policy of this government. Irritatingly, she never quite reveals why standing as a female candidate is so important - she just takes it for granted that the general membership will default to a female deputy leader if Brown is PM. If she's really a feminist, she needs to put forward a better case as to why it's important to have men and women at the top in politics. Oh, and saying 'I'm the southern candidate' is just so ridiculous. She does however get my third preference for being an experienced Minister, who has admirably campaigned on human rights and equalities issues. She also has an excellent, well organised constituency party.

I initially thought I'd plump for Alan Johnson in this contest, but he just hasn't tried to win my vote. He came to a London Young Labour reception in February and stayed all of five minutes, barely attempting to convince the assembled yoof that this cheeky working class ex-postman who was brought up by his sister as a teenager would be someone to lead the party's activists into the next general election. I felt he had nothing to offer the youth movement of the party, but he's no. 4 on my ballot because of his Cabinet experience and the fact he comes across well in the media.

Peter Hain has nothing to contribute to the campaign apart from the fact that he was Secretary of State in Northern Ireland when power sharing was restored. He never fails to mention this in debates. Oh, and apartheid in South Africa. Don't forget that. I actually feel sorry for him, but want him nowhere near that Deputy Leader's office. I think, that despite his achievements, he'd be the wrong man for this job.

Hazel Blears is the Marmite candidate. I've met her personally, and she's lovely, but she has been far too close to the Blair regime. I just couldn't trust her to stand up to Gordon. She's got great working class credentials - 'My brother drives a Manchester bus' - but she's also quite divisive. When I was helping out Hilary Benn in ringing councillors to ask if they'd vote for him, all I got was 'anyone but Blears'.

So, there you have it, I'm off the postbox now!

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