Labour leadership: runners and riders

Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott

Constituency: Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Age: 56

Background: Diane Abbott was elected MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987 and has served the constituency ever since. She was the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons, and remained the only black female MP for ten years.

Before beginning her political career at Westminster City Council, she worked as a researcher in television. She now appears as a regular pundit on the BBC politics show This Week along with the former Conservative MP Michael Portillo, with whom she has been friends since schooldays.

Abbott is a notable campaigner on issues of race and education, and gave an award-winning speech in defence of civil liberties during the debate on the Counterterrorism Act 2008. She voted against the Iraq war, and is generally considered to stand to the left of New Labour.

She has one son from her marriage to the architect Richard Thompson (they divorced in 1993). The former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken is her son's godfather. Aitken was her voting "pair" in the Commons for several years.

Notable supporters: One official nomination so far -- David Lammy.

Declared: 20 May 2010 on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Soundbite: "Labour needs the broadest possible contest. We can't go forward with a leadership debate where there is no woman."

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about Diane Abbott's leadership campaign from the New Statesman writers Alice Miles, James Macintyre and Mehdi Hasan.

 

Ed Balls

Ed Balls

Constituency: Morley and Outwood

Age: 43

Background: Ed Balls has been an MP since the 2005 general election. He was educated at Oxford and Harvard and worked for the Financial Times before his appointment as economic adviser to the then shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown, in 1994.

Balls has since worked as chief economic adviser to the Treasury and was promoted to minister for children, schools and families when Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007. Widely seen as Brown's right-hand man, he was tipped for chancellor in the cabinet reshuffle of May 2009 before Brown chose to shore up the incumbent, Alistair Darling.

Among his policies implemented while in the cabinet are the scrapping of Sats for 14-year-olds and regulation of parents who home-school their children. He is married to Yvette Cooper, a fellow minister and MP for the neighbouring constituency of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. Together they were subject to allegations of "house-flipping" during the MPs' expenses scandal. They have three children.

Notable supporters: Officially nominated with 33 nominations, including Kevin Brennan and Vernan Coaker. Other supporters include Kerry McCarthy, Diana Johnson, Khalid Mahmood and Eric Joyce.

Declared: 19 May 2010 at a community centre in Gedling, Nottinghamshire.

Soundbite: "I think it's really important we don't just talk to ourselves. We've got to hear what the country's got to say."

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about Ed Balls's leadership campaign from Mehdi Hasan.

 

Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham

Constituency: Leigh

Age: 40

Campaign website: andy4leader.com

Background: Andy Burnham has served as the MP for Leigh since 2001. Born in Liverpool, he joined the Labour Party aged 14 during the miners' strike, before going on to study English at Cambridge. He worked in a number of roles for the Labour Party (including as a researcher for Tessa Jowell during the 1997 election) and is a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He has previously been associated with the Blairite wing of the party.

When Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007, Burnham was elevated from junior ministerial ranks and held a number of cabinet roles, including chief secretary to the Treasury, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and secretary of state for health.

He was exposed during the MPs' expenses scandal as having been engaged in several long-running disputes with the Fees Office over claims for a flat he was refurbishing. At one point, he wrote that "I might be in line for a divorce!" if he was not reimbursed within days for another claim. He is married with one son and two daughters, and is a keen cricket player and lifelong supporter of Everton FC.

Notable supporters: 17 official nominations so far, including Hazel Blears, David Blunkett and Gerry Sutcliffe.

Declared: 20 May 2010 at People's History Museum in Manchester.

Soundbite: "People from all backgrounds playing a part in reshaping the People's Party for a new century."

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about Andy Burnham's campaign from Mehdi Hasan.

 

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband

Constituency: Doncaster North

Age: 40

Campaign website: edmiliband.org

Background: Ed Miliband was first elected as MP for Doncaster North in 2005. Born in London, he is the son of the late Marxist political scientist Ralph Miliband. He attended Haverstock Comprehensive School before reading PPE at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, going on to gain a Master's in economics at the LSE.

As a teenager, Miliband worked as an intern for Tony Benn, before joining the Labour Party as a researcher and speechwriter for Harriet Harman in 1993. He subsequently became an adviser to Gordon Brown before his election to the Commons in 2005. He served as minister for the Cabinet Office and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 2007, before being appointed secretary of state for energy and climate change in the cabinet reshuffle of October 2008.

He and his brother, David Miliband, are the first brothers to serve in the same cabinet since the Stanley brothers in 1938. He lives with his partner and their son in north London.

Notable supporters: Officially nominated with 45 nominations, including Hilary Benn, Frank Dobson, Sadiq Kahn, Emily Thornberry, Peter Hain and Chuka Umunna. Other supporters include Paul Murphy and Neil Kinnock.

Declared: 15 May 2010 in a keynote speech to the Fabian Society.

Soundbite: "I have empathy to unite Labour."

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about Ed Miliband's campaign from James Macintyre, George Eaton and Samira Shackle.

 

David Miliband

David Miliband

Constituency: South Shields

Age: 44

Campaign website: davidmiliband.net

Background: David Miliband was first elected as MP for South Shields in 2001. Born in London, he is the son of the late Marxist theoretician Ralph Miliband. He attended Haverstock Comprehensive School before reading PPE at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, before going on to get a Master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After working in the voluntary sector and for the Institute for Public Policy Research, he was appointed Tony Blair's head of policy, and after Labour's victory in the 1997 general election became head of the prime minister's Policy Unit. Following his election to the Commons in 2001, he held a string of ministerial posts, including Cabinet Office minister and secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs. After Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007, he was made foreign secretary. He and his younger brother, Ed, were the first brothers to hold cabinet rank simultaneously since the Stanley brothers in 1938.

He is married to Louise Shackleton, a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra, and they have adopted two sons from the US.

Notable supporters: Officially nominated with 54 nominations, including Alan Johnson, Douglas Alexander, Caroline Flint, Willie Bain and Tom Harris

Declared: 12 May 2010, outside the House of Commons on Labour's first full day out of office, flanked by 15 MPs who support him.

Soundbite: "New Labour isn't new any more. What I'm interested in is Next Labour."

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about David Miliband's campaign by James Macintyre: The end of "New Labour", Miliband the feminist and Miliband brothers will never attack.

 

John McDonnell

John McDonnell

Constituency: Hayes and Harlington

Age: 58

Background: John McDonnell was first elected as an MP in 1997. He left school at the age of 17 and held a string of unskilled jobs. He then studied for A-levels at night school before attending Brunel University. After gaining his Master's from Birkbeck he became a researcher and official with the National Union of Mineworkers and the Trades Union Congress.

He was elected to the Greater London Council in 1981. Following the abolition of the GLC, McDonnell was employed as head of the policy unit at Camden Council. He first fought his home-town seat of Hayes and Harlington in 1992, but lost by 53 votes. During the campaign, he was sued for libel by his Conservative opponent, Terry Dicks. The case was settled and the £55,000 damages and legal costs were funded through left-wing campaigning groups.

Since his election to the Commons, he has been a leading member of a number of all-party groups within parliament, including groups representing individual trade unions such as the RMT and the Fire Brigades Union. He rebelled against the government on several controversial votes, including the Iraq war, top-up fees and anti-terror laws.

Notable supporters: Five official nominations so far, including Frank Field and Jeremy Corbyn. Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, Sunny Hundal, founder of Liberal Conspiracy, and Neil Clark have also declared their support.

Declared: 19 May 2010 in a speech to the Public and Commercial Services Union.

Soundbite: Leadership contest "stitched up from the start".

More on YourDemocracy

Read more about John McDonnell's campaign by Jon Bernstein.

 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Corbyn is personally fireproof, but his manifesto could be torched by the Brexit blaze

There is no evidence that EU migration has depressed wages – but most Labour MPs believe it has.

News, like gas, expands to fill the space available to it. That’s why the summer recess can so often be a time of political discomfort for one party or another. Without the daily grind of life at Westminster, difficult moments can linger. Minor rows become front-page news.

There are many reasons why Theresa May is spending three weeks hiking in northern Italy and Switzerland, and one of them is that it is hard to have a leadership crisis if your leader is elsewhere. That makes the summer particularly dangerous for Labour. The danger is heightened as the majority of the press is unsympathetic to the party and the remainder is simply bored. Even a minor crisis could turn into a catastrophe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on 23 July, therefore, carried the same risks as juggling lit matches in a dry forest. The Labour leader ruled out continuing participation in the single market after Britain leaves the political structures of the European Union. For good measure, he added that the “wholesale importation” of people from eastern and central Europe had been used to undermine pay and conditions for British workers. Both statements only aggravate the stress fractures in the Labour movement and in its electoral coalition.

The good news for the Labour leader is that he is fireproof. Only God or Corbyn himself can prevent him from leading the party into the next election, whenever it comes, and no one will be foolish enough to try to remove him, even if they had the inclination. Also, while the question of what flavour of Brexit to pursue divides Labour in the country, it doesn’t divide Labour at Westminster. Most Labour MPs nodded along in agreement with Corbyn during the Marr interview. They believe – as the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, outlined a day later – that remaining in the customs union and the single market would be a betrayal of the wishes of Leave voters, who want full control over Britain’s borders and laws.

There is no evidence that migration from the eastern bloc has depressed wages. But most Labour MPs believe that it has. “I am convinced,” one formerly pro-European MP told me, “that no matter what the studies say, immigration has reduced wages.”

Most of the Labour people who are willing to kick up a fuss about “hard” Brexit are outside parliament. These include the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, who wants Britain to remain in the single market; the general secretary of the TSSA union, Manuel Cortes, who recently used the New Statesman website to urge the party to keep all of its options open, including a second referendum to keep Britain in the EU; and the rapper Akala, who lambasted Corbyn’s interview on Twitter. While a large minority of Labour MPs back a softer version of Brexit, they are a minority, and not a large enough one to combine with Tory dissidents to make a Commons majority, even when the votes of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green MP Caroline Lucas are taken into account.

This increases the party’s dependence on Jeremy Corbyn. As the leader’s aides observe, even among the quarter of the country that believes the government should simply overturn the referendum result, only a quarter of that quarter do so because they have a particular affection for the institutions of the European Union.

For the majority of hard Remainers, Brexit is a significant battleground in a larger culture war, one in which Corbyn is otherwise in perfect alignment with their values. His electoral appeal to Labour MPs is that he is someone who can say the same things on Brexit and migration as Yvette Cooper or Stephen Kinnock previously did, but without losing votes in England’s great cities.

The electoral threat to Labour from backing a harder form of exit is, in any case, often overstated. The first-past-the-post system makes the Liberal Democrats an inadequate refuge for anguished Remainers in England, while the SNP’s support for Scottish independence makes it an unsuitable home for Labour refugees in Scotland. Team Corbyn feels that Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ new leader, will struggle to convince Labour voters that he can be trusted because of the role he played in designing the new system of tuition fees (having previously pledged to vote against them). In any case, the risk of letting in a Conservative prime minister – probably one committed to a version of Brexit even harder than Labour’s – further locks Remainers in Labour’s corner.

That leaves Labour in Westminster free to pursue a version of Brexit that meets the needs of both the leadership, which relishes the freedom to pursue a more radical economic policy unconstrained by the European Union, and Labour MPs, particularly those with seats in Yorkshire and the Midlands, who are concerned about opposition to immigration in their constituencies. This has the happy side effect of forcing the Conservatives to take the blame for delivering any Brexit deal that falls short of the promises made by Vote Leave during the referendum and in the high-blown rhetoric used by Theresa May during the election campaign.

However, all is not rosy. What most Labour MPs seem to have forgotten is that Brexit is not simply a political battleground – something to be leveraged to reduce the number of complaints about migration and to hasten the Tory government into an early grave. There is a political victory to be had by using the Brexit process to clobber the government. But there is also a far bigger defeat in store for the left if leaving the EU makes Britain poorer and more vulnerable to the caprice of international finance. That Jeremy Corbyn is personally fireproof doesn’t mean that his manifesto can’t be torched by the Brexit blaze. 

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

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue