Election 2010 Lookahead: Thursday 22 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With another 16 days to go in this election campaign, here is what is happening today:

Labour

With Gordon Brown locked in a bunker with Alastair Campbell et al. trying furiously to stop him smiling, things are quiet today for Labour. Health Secretary Andy Burnham debates the future direction of health policy against his Tory and Lib Dem opponents at the Cavendish Conference Centre in Westminster (10.30am).

Conservatives

For those struggling to get their fix of David Cameron in the run-up to tonight's action, the Tory leader is featured on a CBBC election special this afternoon (4.35pm; see below). According to the BBC, Cambo has been out jogging in Bristol and insists he is "really, really enjoying" the campaign, despite yesterday's egging. Elsewhere, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley debates health in Westminster (10.30am).

Liberal Democrats

Ahead of the Bristol match-up, Nick Clegg visits a parent and toddler group in the city (11am), presumably ignoring the morning papers. Former Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy meets campaigners and voters in Cambridge with Lib Dem candidate Julian Huppert (11am). Health spokesman Norman Lamb is in Westminster with Messrs Burnham and Lansley debating health (10.30am).

The media

Dominating media coverage will be the build-up to tonight's Sky News Debate, hosted by Sky political editor Adam Boulton in Bristol and focusing on international affairs (8pm). Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems received a huge poll boost following the first debate on ITV last week, which drew peak viewing figures of 10.3 million.

At the BBC, David Dimbleby hosts Question Time in Greenwich, with a panel including William Hague, Yvette Cooper, and Menzies Campbell (10.35pm). The programme is broadcast live so that both the audience and panel can comment on the Bristol debate.

CBBC broadcast Election: Your Vote, a special featuring children interviewing David Cameron, Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik on key issues that matter to their age group. It is presented by Angellica Bell and the debate is chaired by Andrew Neil, in front of a live audience of 140 children. Sharon Osbourne, Julia Bradbury and Evan Davis appear as celebrity mentors (4.35pm).

On UTV, The UTV Leaders Debate sees the leaders of the four main parties discuss all the major issues facing Northern Ireland in the upcoming elections before an audience of first time voters, chaired by Jim Dougal (9pm).

Other parties

In Edinburgh, SNP Deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Edinburgh East MSP and Justice Sec Kenny MacAskill, SNP Edinburgh East candidate George Kerevan and Edinburgh North and Leith candidate Calum Cashley in an SNP branded taxi "to make the point that only SNP MPs are championing stable fuel prices at Westminster" (10.15am).

Away from the campaign

If you think a lot of people will be watching the leaders debate, the NFL draft pulled in 39m viewers last year. The annual pick of college American football players by the huge sport franchises gets underway at 11.30pm (coverage on Sky Sports over the weekend).

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.