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 web editor of the New Statesman.

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change