Our Verdict: Labour Deputy Leadership Contest

9 Sep 2015

 

As the interminable Labour leadership campaign nears its finale, we review the candidates competing to deputise the new party premier.

 

The Labour leadership ballot closes at noon on 10th September. The results of the ballot will be announced at a special conference on the morning of the 12th September. Make sure to follow Westminster HUB on Twitter for updates.

 

 

Ben Bradshaw

 

 

The former BBC journalist found himself marooned in a sea of southern Conservative constituencies when all but a few traces of Labour were destroyed in May. Bradshaw has held Cabinet positions before - most notably as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport under Gordon Brown. He was also one of the first MPs to be elected as an openly gay candidate, back in 1997. With Bradshaw comes a wealth of experience in both Westminster and community-based politics. However, Bradshaw lacks the strength of Watson or the flair of Creasy. Moreover, though the Exeter MP is one of few Labour representatives in the Commons to have overturned a Tory stronghold in the South, his ‘win-at-all-costs’ maxim rings hollow with grassroots supporters who crave a symbiosis of power and principle.

 

Read our exclusive interview with Ben Bradshaw here.

 

 

Stella Creasy

 

 

For the second half of the previous Parliament, Creasy was a cult figure on the Labour frontbench, having achieved notoriety through her noble campaigns against ‘legal loan sharks’ and sexist abusers. But if her Westminster reputation is significant, it’s exponentially larger online. Creasy was one of the first politicians to exploit social media to create a legion of followers and activists willing to shout her name from the rooftops.

 

Be it on Question Time, or in person, Creasy has defended her party diligently, but been able to listen to and comprehend the concerns of many. Creasy’s paradoxical weakness is the underlying antipathy that many fellow MPs feel towards her rapid rise. Indeed, her brand of hyper-populism within the online community means she has the potential to steal attention from her colleagues. This was most evident back in June when her Deputy Leadership campaign was nearly halted by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). In the end, Creasy was forced to rely on handouts from Rushanara Ali to get onto the ballot.  Yet, given her grassroots popularity, if anyone is to prevent the anointment of Tom Watson as Deputy Leader, it is likely to be Stella Creasy.

 

 

Angela Eagle

 

 

Eagle has an exceptional Labour CV. The MP for Wallasey has served as a Cabinet member, as the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, and as the National Executive Committee Chair. Cut Eagle open and she bleeds Labour red. Yet, her campaign appears to be more of a collection of irrelevant stunts than anything more substantial. While her opponents have led discussions about why Labour failed in May, and how they will get the party back to winning ways, Eagle has, at times, focused on the trivial. Her campaign slogan has been ‘Calm Down Dear, I’m Backing Angela’ - a reference to an off-the-cuff remark made by David Cameron towards Eagle at PMQs. It was an ill-advised, sexist blunder by the Prime Minister, which caused him much embarrassment at the time. However, the incident has not defined Eagle’s career, and by no means should have any bearing on the Deputy Leadership contest. 

 

Eagle has staunchly defended Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to win-over his radical fan base. Her left-wing credentials have also been authenticated through several trade union nominations. Eagle has branded herself as an experienced figure who can bring about calm co-operation between the Blairite and Corbynite wings of the party. Yet, as a candidate in her own right – rather than as a peacekeeper – Eagle’s campaign has been largely devoid of substance. It is therefore likely that she will be fortunate to avoid receiving the Deputy Leadership Wooden Spoon award.

 

 

Caroline Flint

 

 

Flint entered the contest as a dark-horse to win. Publicly favoured by party moderates, she was seen as the viable anti-Watson candidate at the start of the summer. Her own backstory brings an aura of sincerity to her campaign that opponents have struggled to match. Flint has appeared on Question Time more than any other politician over the past five years - a testament to her positive debating style and her terrific record of loyalty to the party. To put it simply, it is hard to dislike Flint. That is why the speed of her campaign has been so underwhelming. For someone who has been talked about as a future Prime Minister, she has led a disappointing bid. Far from the vibrant, media-savvy approaches of Watson and Creasy, Flint has chugged along like an old steam train. Her campaign has been steady and consistent, but by no means inspiring or galvanising.

 

 

Tom Watson

 

 

If the polls are to be believed, Watson is nailed-on to win the Deputy Leadership contest. However, after May’s incredulous general election result, which few pollsters predicted, it is sensible to treat the data with a degree of scepticism - particularly when the nature of Labour’s selectorate remains so opaque.

 

The parallels between Watson and former Deputy Leader John Prescott are palpable. Both are booming northerners who have bulldozed their way through Westminster’s stereotypes. Prescott was an instrumental part of New Labour, appeasing the unions and the militant left while Blair, Campbell, and co. ‘modernised’ the party. Unless Saturday delivers a miracle, Labour's Deputy Leader will be forced to serve under Jeremy Corbyn, and will be required to play the reverse role of Prescott by keeping the party’s right-wing happy. Whether Watson possesses this ability, given his divisive history, is questionable. Centrists still remember with hostility the contribution that Watson made to Blair’s departure, and may be unwilling to compromise for an old foe.

 

Watson’s campaign has focused on a return to community-based activism, a message which has resonated with lots of Labour supporters. The West Bromwich MP is also no pushover, having led a campaign against the News International empire. In usual circumstances, Watson would be an ideal choice. However, Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to fame limits the advantages of a Watson Deputy Leadership. The ‘Tom and Jerry’ smears will undoubtedly linger if the two are elected to the helm of the party.

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