Friday, 22 May 2015


...but I did not shoot the deputy. Just how important is the role of deputy leader of the Labour Party? It's a position which has varied in power and influence over the decades. The most important of all was Arthur Greenwood, more than seven decades ago. As a War Cabinet member, Greenwood strongly backed up Attlee in supporting Churchill's decision to fight on in 1940 – something which was by no means a foregone conclusion. It's perfectly possible that with someone other than Greenwood in situ then peace would have been made with Hitler - on the latter's terms.

When he left the war cabinet in 1943 Greenwood found himself in the strange position of Leader of the Opposition to the government in which his party leader served as Deputy Prime Minister! 

Arthur Greenwood - the most important Labour deputy of them all.

After the 1945 election, Attlee’s old rival Herbert Morrison became both party deputy and Deputy PM too. John Prescott is the only other Labour deputy to be Deputy PM as well. Morrison retained his position, being challenged twice by Nye Bevan but winning easily on both occasions. He lost out in 1956. In an uncanny repetition of the 1955 leadership election he was a poor third with Bevan second. 65-year-old James Griffiths was elected. He stood down in 1959 and was replaced by an already seriously ill Bevan. In theory he held the position for a year. In practice it was for just six months before he became too ill to carry out his duties. Bevan died in 1960.

Herbert Morrison - one of only two deputies to also serve as Deputy PM. Incidentally, grandfather of Peter Mandelson.

The balance between left and right was upset by Bevan’s death and was exacerbated when right-winger George Brown was elected as the Welshman’s replacement, defeating the left candidate Fred Lee and the rising star James Callaghan, though it took him a second ballot to do so. He fended off challenges from the left from Barbara Castle easily and Harold Wilson by a narrower margin.

Although he had many problems with Brown when he became Prime Minister, Wilson adopted LBJ’s tent-pissing philosophy and for the rest of his time in parliament urged no opposition to Brown– even after he resigned from the Cabinet.

Brown lost his seat in 1970 and Roy Jenkins succeeded to the position with an easy first round victory over Michael Foot and Fred Peart. Jenkins’ time as deputy was not an easy one. Foot challenged again the next year, as did Tony Benn – making the first of several bids for deputy or leader over the next 17 years. Jenkins narrowly failed to win on the first ballot and picked up no votes at all in the second. However, one-third of Benn’s backers failed to transfer to Foot and Jenkins secured re-election in the run-off.

The strongly pro-European Jenkins resigned after Labour decided to include a referendum on the then Common Market in its next manifesto. Foot stood for a third year in succession, as did Tony Crosland from the right but centrist ‘unity’ candidate Ted Short defeated Foot in the run-off. He stood down shortly after Jim Callaghan became PM in 1976 and this time Michael Foot – after three previous attempts and a failed leadership bid as well – finally won the post, beating Shirley Williams in a straight fight.

After Foot’s election as party leader in 1980, his defeated rival Denis Healey was elected unopposed as Deputy, a year before the bitter and dramatic showdown with Tony Benn referred to in the previous post which also covers all subsequent deputy leadership elections up to and including Harriet Harman in 2007.

2015 Deputy Leader contenders

So to the current contest. Five candidates have declared for this year’s election so far and an oddity is that with the exception of Stella Creasy all are older than any of the leadership candidates. This actually makes them more appealing to party voters as none of them could be seen as overly-ambitious to challenge the leader should he or she fall into difficulty. In any case, as we have seen, whenever a deputy has acted as an acting leader they have failed to progress to the top job. Morrison, George Brown and Margaret Beckett lost out in such circumstances, with Beckett even losing her position as number two as well. Harriet Harman has been acting leader twice but has never put her name forward for the top job on either occasion.

With regard to age considerations and looking ten years ahead to the end of the parliament elected in 2020, the oldest candidate for deputy Ben Bradshaw will be pushing 65. Only the youngest of the five declared so far – Stella Creasy, who would be 48 – could be thought of as a potential future leadership contender, barring anyone falling under buses and such like.

Regardless of whoever is elected, this is a good thing for Labour, knowing that the number two in the party hierarchy (if not in actual political clout) isn’t likely to be undermining and plotting against their boss – something which hasn’t exactly been always the case but has been generally so since elections were removed from being the sole preserve of the MPs.

Ben Bradshaw

Bradshaw, 55 by the time of the election has been an MP since 1997. A grammar school boy with real life working experience, starting out as a reporter with the Exeter Express & Echo then the Eastern Daily Press in his native Norwich. He subsequently transferred to BBC Radio Devon before obtaining a post as Berlin correspondent (he had studied German and taught English in Germany) for BBC Radio. He was promoted to the prestigious ‘The World At One’ before becoming MP for Exeter.

Bradshaw therefore has a long and distinguished career in broadcast and print journalism with no hint of spaddery in his background. He held a number of junior governmental positions. He is a strong advocate of LGBT rights, gaining a 100% rating by the campaign group Stonewall. He joined the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2009. He held the same brief for a short period after the 2010 election defeat, losing it when he failed to gain election to the Shadow Cabinet later that year.

Controversially, he is one of a number of leading Labour politicians – Chris Bryant, Jim Murphy, Gisela Stuart amongst others – to be a leading light in the Henry Jackson Society, named after the late US Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, a somewhat ambivalent politician, aggressively hawkish on the Vietnam war but strongly pro-Civil Rights at the same time. The society’s influential figures include those not usually thought of as sympathetic to Labour such as the academics Patrick Minford, Andrew Roberts and Roger Scruton, a slew of Tory MPs, UKIP’s Douglas Carswell, and Ulster Unionist David Trimble.

In its favour is that many of the right-wing members like David Davis & Carswell are sympathetic to civil liberties (though others are certainly not – Nadine Dorries for instance).

All this regardless, it is not a good place for a Labour deputy leader to be and I expect much of Bradshaw’s links to be a focus for debate in the months ahead.

Stella Creasy

While Bradshaw has a comfortable-looking majority, Stella Creasy has a stonking one of 20,000+, in her Walthamstow seat, well up on 2010, which means there would be no difficulty for her in taking on the deputy’s task of nationwide travel not just on official visits but to constituency parties as well.

Creasy is from the 2010 intake, daughter of academic Labour Party members, distantly related to the aristocracy through her mother (and make no mistake, no matter how distant, this will be a line of Tory attack if successful) and the journalist Polly Toynbee.

Like Bradshaw she has a Grammar School background, her early years being spent in first Manchester then Colchester. She failed the 11+ and it was only the move south which allowed her the chance to re-sit. She is herself opposed to selective education. However she is yet another who has been immersed in party politics and government since leaving university, working as a researcher for Douglas Alexander and Charles Clarke (themselves both off the same production line).

But she has also shown a willingness to get her hands dirty with the nitty-gritty of politics, serving on Waltham Forest Council, campaigning against the excesses of payday loan companies, and for the greater inclusion of women on banknotes. As a result of the latter, she became the subject of violent threats against her on Twitter, including rape, with one of her trolls jailed for eighteen weeks last year.

She has, what Denis Healey famously described as a ‘hinterland’, a life beyond politics. For Healey it was photography, music and painting. For Creasy it is music, even to the extent of writing album sleeve notes for indie band The Wedding Present.

A rapidly written but thoughtful, reflective piece in The Guardian 48 hours after the election defeat demonstrated her understanding of what had happened without offering cheap fixes for the future.

Many would have liked her to challenge for the leadership itself.

Angela Eagle

Eagle, 54, is the longest-serving of any contenders for leader of deputy, having been first elected in 1992. Almost a quarter of a century in parliament before staking a claim on a top position is almost unheard of these days.

Eagle is from a working class family and has a comprehensive education. But like so many others, her pre-Commons employment was exclusively political, working for a major trade union as a press officer then parliamentary researcher.

Her 1992 victory saw her become the first ever Labour MP for Wallasey. Her current majority is a healthy five-figure one, more than four times greater than when first elected. Famously, her sister Maria was elected in 1997 to provide the House of Commons with its first ever twins.

She served as a junior minster in the first two Blair administrations before being sacked – reputedly in error. She was restored to government under Gordon Brown and was elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 2010.  She was the MP subject to Cameron’s patronising “Calm Down Dear” shortly before becoming Shadow Leader of the Commons, a position held throughout the remainder of the parliament.

She too has a ‘hinterland.’ Her website says she is a former British U-18 chess champion and represented both Lancashire and England before political demands took their toll on her free time. She is a keen cricketer and has musical interests which extend from The Pretenders to Barbra Streisand.

The big question mark is whether someone who has been in parliament for 23 years, 13 of which were under a Labour government, but never reached Cabinet status, is the right person to undertake the campaigning and party morale-boosting role which inevitably comes with the job of deputy.

Caroline Flint

The word ‘marmite’ could have been invented for the uber-Blairite Caroline Flint who will be rising 54 by the time the internal election is completed. Her majority of just under 10,000 in her Don Valley seat is healthy enough for her to take on the role of deputy.

Educated at Twickenham Girls School (which despite the name, was a comprehensive), she is a rare non-Oxbridge candidate, having studied at UEA. She has worked outside of politics with the former ILEA and Lambeth Council before becoming a political researcher for the GMB prior to election in 1997.

She has never reached Cabinet rank but served continuously at Minister of State level in Tony Blair’s third administration in 2005 and after Gordon Brown’s takeover until resigning in 2009, unhappy with the way Brown ran the government and suggesting that she had been “female window dressing.” Not backwards at coming forwards she did a photo-shoot for the Observer Woman magazine then later complained that her looks were “a doubled-edged sword” – a position somewhat at odds with agreeing to the photo-shoot.

She has been involved in a number of controversies, including being caught up in the parliamentary expenses scandal – though her repayment was the comparatively minor sum of £572. Of much greater import was her admission on the floor of the Commons that she hadn’t actually read the Lisbon Treaty, having only been “briefed” on it. At the time she was the Minister responsible for implementing the same treaty – the most important piece of EU legislation affecting the UK since Maastricht.

At the same time she remains popular with many of her peers, assiduously works her constituency, and had all three of her children (one from her husband’s former relationship) educated locally. Her husband is a Doncaster councillor, important in having her ear kept to the local ground.

Tom Watson

Watson, 48 has been MP for West Bromwich since 2001 and currently has a majority of just under 7,000. Secondary educated and with a non-Oxbridge background (Hull), Watson was, like many before and after, heavily involved in Labour student politics. That led to an appointment as Labour’s Youth Development officer before taking the tried and tested route of trade union political officer prior to becoming an MP.

One of his early parliamentary interventions was to recommend a further examination of drug policy including looking at legalisation and regulation. This is in sharp distinction to Flint for instance who went out of her way when Home Office Minster to criminalise the use of ‘magic mushrooms’ against expert advice.

Despite his current image as an anti-establishment figure Watson was in favour of the Iraq war and against an investigation into it. Promotion to the Whips office followed and shortly afterwards he received the unwanted accolade of ‘Top Toadie’ as part of a series on such, written by Marina Hyde in The Guardian.

But Watson had already shown a flair for bringing an individual touch to government. Apart from drugs policy he campaigned to change organ donation laws and when promoted to Under-Secretary at the MOD was instrumental in awarding posthumous pardons for over 300 soldiers shot for cowardice in the First World War. Watson also has a long interest in the importance of information technology, setting up his own blog as early as 2003 and when in the Cabinet Office under Gordon Brown, set up procedures to make non-personal governmental data more widely available to the general public.

His reputation as a plotter came to the fore in 2006 when he was instrumental in signing a letter urging Tony Blair to resign in order to avoid speculation about his future. Give the option of withdrawing his signature or resigning he adopted the latter course. When it came to light that Watson had travelled to Scotland to see Gordon Brown the day before the letter to Blair he offered the disingenuous in the extreme excuse that he was just dropping off a present for the Browns’ new baby!

In opposition Watson used his expertise to campaign strongly against the Digital Economy Act but it was the phone hacking scandal which established him as a serious player and first really brought him to public attention. A vociferous and effective opponent of the Murdoch empire on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, his relentless harrying of the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, did him no harm within the Labour Party or those sympathetic to the victims (i.e. just about everyone). Famously, he labelled James Murdoch as akin to a Mafia boss. This was not something the Murdochs were used to but it was something they had to endure.

He wasn’t prepared to let it drop there either, writing a book ‘Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.’

He was promoted to Deputy Chair of the Labour Party in 2011 and campaign co-ordinator. He resigned from the latter position during a row over the selection of a candidate for Falkirk West for the 2015 election when the Unite union organised a mass expansion of constituency membership in favour of Watson’s office manager who was later suspended by the party.

Watson’s reputation as a campaigning MP emerged again when he became prominent in attempts to investigate the possible existence of a paedophile network in parliament which had been protected at the highest level. He suggested that a close aide to a former Prime Minister had been involved and while he didn’t use parliamentary privilege to name names, few in the public arena had little doubt as to the identities of either.

Watson works his constituency well. In the last parliament he erupted when nine schools scheduled for new classrooms had their funding withdrawn by describing then Education Secretary Michael Gove as a “miserable pipsqueak of a man.” A view unlikely to lose him support within the Labour Party.

He partially blamed the media for the break-up of his marriage but anticipated his new partner Stephanie Peacock would join him in the House of Commons when she contested the neighbouring constituency of Halesowen and Rowley Regis which the Tories had gained from Labour by just 2,000 votes in 2010. However, she put on just a couple of hundred votes as the Tories gained 800 more and their majority increased to 3,000

The view that one of the causes for the scale of the Labour defeat can be attributed to Labour voters staying home may be one reason for her surprise loss as turnout was down by 10% compared to 2010.

If Watson is elected then the Murdoch press will come after him with a vengeance. It’s something he’s aware of and hopefully in a position to deal with. It may in fact be a blessing in disguise. As deputy, Watson may well draw the sting away from direct attacks on the actual leader.

He may find his most effective role as deputy leader is to be a human shield for his boss, regardless of who that person is.

For what it's worth, my own first preference votes since the leadership and deputy elections have been opened up have been:

1983 Neil Kinnock
1988 Neil Kinnock
1992 John Smith
1994 Margaret Beckett
2007 N/A
2010 Ed Balls

1981 John Silkin
1983 Roy Hattersley
1988 Roy Hattersley
1992 Margaret Beckett
1994 Margaret Beckett
2007 Peter Hain

Had ordinary party members been entitled to vote prior to 1981 my vote in both the 1976 & 1980 leadership elections would have gone to Michael Foot as it would have in the 1976 deputy election also. 1980 deputy is N/A

No comments:

Post a Comment