Stakes rise in most surprising nominations for Labour leadership

Douglas Alexander, Eric Joyce, Frank Field and Kate Hoey.

With the Labour Party publishing official nominations online as they are made, close Labour watchers will find many MPs nominating the candidate who would seem to fit most naturally with their own political views or personal ties.

There is also an emerging regional theme. Ed Balls's and Andy Burnham's early nominations do not just reflect a good many friends in the north, but suggest that they could raise rival White Rose and Red Rose New Labour armies, given their strong centres of gravity in Yorkshire and the north-west, though David Blunkett is leading a Burnhamite incursion in Yorkshire.

But not all of the nominations are going where one might expect. Here are some of the early contenders in the Least Predictable Nomination stakes.

1. Douglas Alexander for David Miliband

There were four "next-generation Labour" voices most closely associated with Gordon Brown over the past decade. Two of them -- Ed Balls and Ed Miliband -- are now rival candidates for the leadership, while Yvette Cooper chose not to join a "family fortunes" leadership race, and has instead nominated her husband. That Douglas Alexander, the fourth Brownite, has nominated David Miliband may well demonstrate a welcome desire among this generation to break out of the "sons of Blair and Brown" frame of reference.

Although he may be disappointed not to have secured the Alexander nomination, I can't see many surprises on the Ed Miliband list of initial nominees.

2. Eric Joyce for Ed Balls

The standout surprise on the Ed Balls list of his first 24 nominations is the MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce, for a long time among the most Blairite members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. As an ex-soldier, Joyce was often put up on Newsnight to defend the government over Iraq when no minister was willing to do so. On that, he and Balls can agree to differ.

3. Frank Field and Kate Hoey for John McDonnell

Asked to identify the most right-leaning member of the PLP, a number of Labour members would put Frank Field and Kate Hoey on their shortlist.

Both are living up to their reputations as freethinking mavericks by being among the first supporters of John McDonnell. Perhaps the stalwart of the Socialist Campaign Group and the candidate of the Labour Representation Committee left will run a Blairite "big-tent" strategy after all?

Ed Miliband is doing well on nominations, but I do not see any great surprises. Perhaps we should challenge him to prise Nick Brown's nomination from Ed Balls

Finally, Diane Abbott has yet to record any official nominations on the Labour website. David Lammy, who is personally close to David Miliband, has pledged to nominate (but not vote for) her. Though McDonnell has set the bar high, I suspect Abbott may turn out to be the winner in the Least Likely Nominee stakes after all.

Sunder Katwala is general secretary of the Fabian Society.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland