Brief preface – I am a Labour MP who prefers to post occasionally and anonymously, as it gives me the opportunity to be more outspoken than Nick Palmer, Stewart Jackson and others can be.
First the leadership election. Everyone in the PLP now agrees that it’ll be Gordon unless he falls under a bus. Consequently, people aren’t as interested as they used to be in whether there will be a contest or not. The best outcome for him would be a McDonnell candidacy that gets squashed like a bug (less than 15%): Brown then has a great mandate and can incidentally show that the party isn’t interested in going back to the 80s.
Failing that, a straightforward endorsement by 85-90%+ would be OK. A more successful McDonnell candidacy (25%+) or a low return rate in an endorsement vote would be mildly embarrassing, but there is no big downside with any imaginable result.
What about a serious challenge? Doesn’t look likely. Or a simple coronation without an endorsement ballot? Probably not either: as someone said, it would leave Gordon “twiddling his thumbs” while the deputy candidates slugged it out. He’ll want to campaign for a proper endorsement. When? Almost certainly June.
The deputy contest is, of course, far more uncertain. There are several subcontests. Johnson, Blears and Harman are in the same ‘don’t rock the boat’ market, with Blears (if she stands) and Harman having a subcontest for those who feel gender balance is essential. Hain and Benn are in the same ‘moderate left’ area, dropping regular hints that they are a bit more radical than the current leadership without actually jumping ship.
Hain is stronger on green issues (and won anti-nuclear voters by saying early on that there would be no nuclear power stations in Ulster) but Benn scores with the party’s many overseas development supporters, and his name counts for something too. Interestingly, Hain has been moving left, notably urging the scrapping of the expensive union political fund ballots (which always produce a whopping yes vote), while Benn has been moving right, with an outspoken defence of the Iraq action. Jack Straw seems to have lost interest.
Cruddas and Corbyn are both fishing in the anti-establishment pool. Corbyn is among the traditional left-wingers who hadn’t thought Cruddas was all that left-wing till recently and would like to have a standard-bearer for the True Faith, but he won’t get 44 signatures, and it’s not certain that Cruddas will either.
Remember, though, that party rules allow MPs to nominate more than one candidate, so people can please more than one camp “in the interest of giving members a choice”, and I reckon Cruddas will scramble onto the ballot in the end.
Harman is the candidate who is running hardest at the moment. She’s got a speaking tour in CLPs round the country, a website launch next week, and she’s written to every Labour MP in marginal seats offering to come and speak for them. She’s got commitments from many of the women members of the PLP, though not all (Angela Eagle is a strong Harriet fan, but her twin Maria is a Hain backer) and with Johnson making quiet progress among the serious loyalists, my guess is that Blears would find it difficult to beat them.
Whoever emerges from each group (not least by actually getting on the ballot) will tend to get the support of the others from that group if they’ve managed to avoid it turning nasty (e.g. many Benn and Hain supporters have said openly that they will make the other their second preference).
Cruddas has the big advantage that he’s the only candidate who can openly oppose current policy (as he’s not in the Cabinet).
He is fighting a traditional campaign and would probably have won 15 years ago, but he has very little positive PLP support, and much of his potential CLP support has left the party, so his effort is focusing on the union section. He has reportedly got the backing of the T&G and probably Unison, and thought he had Amicus too, though the leadership are holding off to give them better bargaining power with the candidates and could yet endorse more than one candidate as ‘good options’. The GMB are generally thought likely to endorse Hain. An open question is how much union members listen to their Political Committees’ advice.
Bottom line? Cruddas should do pretty well, but is very unlikely to win. The hardcore loyalist vote should see Johnson in the final, probably against either Benn or Hain, who would probably then have an edge. But all three, and Harman, are in with a shout, and any clear preference in national polls could change the picture. Gordon would have no problem working with any of them, and the general public won’t much care, but the choice will tell us something useful about the membership’s priorities.
Red Sky – a mystery Labour MP