Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Labour leadership: who will the Blairites run?

The Socialist Campaign Group’s commitment to running a leftwinger in the Labour leadership contest is very welcome. It should foster debate in the labour movement and could boost all sections of the left.

But nobody seriously expects the SCG’s nominee to win. The outcome will hinge on how the Blairites choose to play it, a point well made by Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens today:

‘The chancellor might always have expected, even welcomed, a token challenge from the hard left. A New Labour rival would be a far more dangerous prospect.’

He goes on to offer an assessment of likely runners and riders:

‘Those most frequently mentioned are John Reid, Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn. All are probably capable of running strong campaigns. Alan Johnson, another touted contender, stands apart. Mr Johnson's appeal lies in his life story - the ascent from postman to cabinet minister - rather than in his politics or record. His pitch is much the same as that of John Major in the 1990 battle for the Tory succession.

‘I would add another name to the list. John Hutton, the work and pensions secretary, is scarcely a household name. He is though among the most attractive of the New Labour torch-bearers and, increasingly, one determined that the flame be kept alight.’

The most obvious remark to make at this stage is that this is not an obviously impressive field. But given that Blairites make up a large portion of the active Labour Party membership, factional allegiance alone should guarantee them a substantial vote.

The lesser-evilist argument will then be made that socialists should back Brown to block the Blairite. Anyone tempted by that logic should remember that the prime minister recently – and quite correctly – described the chancellor as ‘New Labour to his fingertips’.

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