Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Deputy Leadership Update

So - where are we?

Last night saw the candidates line up on Newsnight for a more open, American-style debate. Poor Hazel Blears wasn't well served by the set. Not only was she randomly placed next to the tallest candidate, Hilary Benn, she was largely hidden behind a lectern, meaning that every time the camera cut to her, the viewer's first thought was about how little she is.

Having seen them all do their stuff at Warwick a week ago, I have to remember that this will be the best chance for most members to see the candidates perform.

Benn was better than I thought he would be - and he's doing rather well in the CLP nomination stakes, with 40 or so backing him at last count. He is a competent minister, but I'm not sure that he's got the presence to step up to the second job.

Hazel Blears still seems too bland too me, still trotting out her well-prepared spiel and I just don't see the depth in her thinking or see anything particularly exciting about her candidacy. Her CLP count stands at under 20, but bear in mind that these figures will change on a daily basis. She does count Birmingham Selly Oak as one of her supporters, though. Her Blairite loyalty is exemplary, if looking rather irrelevant these days.

Harriet Harman continues to surprise me by her ability in this - that's not meant to sound patronising, but I've heard that she wasn't the brightest star amongst the Labour firmament. I think she's been the surprise package of the campaign so far for me - engaging, ready to put some distance between herself and the Blair years and she looks competent. I think that it was also courageous to admit that she got it wrong over the vote for Iraq and she understands that we need to do politics a little differently. She's got the backing of around 26 constituency parties.

Alan Johnson did well, although he did try to shoehorn his working-class background into his answers a little. Yes, we all know that you started out as a postman and that you were more used to delivering post to the tradesman's door of Dorneywood than going through the front door. I wasn't sure either about describing himself as Robin to Gordon's Batman. 27 constituency parties have so far decided to throw their weight behind Alan.

Peter Hain remains a player, although he's reportedly falling behind, having only secured the support of a dozen constituency parties - including Birmingham Yardley and large chunks of Wales. I don't blame him for rolling out his history as a campaigner against apartheid again - although having heard it already, I got a little bored (but as I wrote above, not everyone has been fortunate to see the candidates in the flesh). He got caught in a minor cat fight with Hazel when she tried to pin the blame for new stop and question powers (Sus Laws II) on the Northern Ireland Office. Some of his answers were a little too long as well.

As for Jon Cruddas, he's got over 30 local parties behind him now - including Birmingham Ladywood. I noticed at Warwick and again on Newsnight that when he isn't the focus of the camera or the debate, the life seems to disappear from his face and he does need to remember that if he's on a panel, he's always under scrutiny. At Warwick, he spent some time apparently glaring at the audience and it was quite disconcerting, even if unintentional. He can still take a good deal of pride in the fact that so much of his campaign has been stolen by the other candidates - particularly when it comes to revitalising the grassroots. Sometimes, he can also seem rather naive in policy terms, while the other candidates are more nuanced in their policy thoughts.

Jon did make a very sound point about how Gordon can help refresh the government and it is something that has crossed my mind a few times.

Gordon needs to sell himself to the nation and I think we need to see more of the real Gordon Brown. I saw flashes of his passion for policy at Warwick and there are strong hints of it in today's interview with Jackie Ashley in the Guardian. I hope that once he takes over at the end of June, we see that side of him run free. Some commentators reckon that he'll be cautious, but I don't buy that. I think we need a burst of activity - we need some high-profile big policies and big ideas. To borrow and adapt from the West Wing - let Gordon be Gordon, only more so.

Let's put Gordon Brown, the Labour man to the core, the man driven to tackle poverty and inequality up against the product of patronage and privilege. Then we'll see whether policy trumps spin and whether the country wants new politics or more of the same. Let Gideon proclaim the Tories as the natural successors to Blair all he likes - I'm not sure the country wants another Blair. Gordon won't 'lurch to the left,' but drive forwards and upwards.

I'm looking forward to this.


Bill Lees said...

uuhwnscI'm afraid I was watching from bed and nodded off about mid-way through the dbate.

I suspect that Selly Oak CLP's support for Wee Hazel is largely Steve McCabe's doing - he has been canvassing the membership for Hazel.

PoliticalHack said...

It wasn't the most exciting telly you'll see all year, I'll grant you.

You are quite right in fingering Steve McCabe for getting Selly Oak's support lined up for Hazel - he even managed a piece in the Sunday Mercury trumpeting Brum's support for the munchkin.