Tom Watson is frontrunner for Labour's deputy leadership post. Photo: Getty
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Who are the MPs competing to become Labour's deputy leader?

The hunt for Harriet Harman's successor.

Harriet Harman, acting Labour leader, will resign her position as deputy leader once a new one is elected. Nominations close on 17 June. Who's in the running for the deputy leadership?

 

Tom Watson

MP for West Bromwich since 2001, former Labour campaign coordinator, worked to expose the phonehacking scandal.

From Brownite apparatchik to scourge of Rupert Murdoch, Tom Watson has long been in the public eye as a vocal Labour supremo. He is crowdfunding for a deputy leadership bid. Watson, who has been MP for West Bromwich East since 2001 and is the party's former campaign coordinator, would be difficult to beat. He has a lot of campaigning experience, and would have the unions' backing. However, he blotted his copybook over the Falkirk candidate selection scandal, when he stood down as campaign coordinator in 2013 (famously recommending Ed Miliband listen to some Drenge).

Strengths: Lots of support from both unions and members; well-known figure; would make the deputy leadership a key campaigning role.

Weaknesses: He's sort of had a rise and fall already; associated with Labour's past.

Read George Eaton’s interview with him here.

 

Ben Bradshaw

Former Culture Secretary, MP for Exeter since 1997, used to be a BBC radio journalist.

Ben Bradshaw is preparing his bid for the deputy leadership, according to the MailBradshaw is a Blairite and will run on a platform encouraging Labour to shift back to the centre ground. It is unlikely he will find enough support among the Parliamentary Labour Party to support his bid, and the fact that there are a few candidates making so-called Blairite bids for the leadership might clash with his endeavours. It is generally thought that the new leadership team needs one voice for the blue collar voters, and one for the aspirational middle classes.

Strengths: A popular centrist message; experience of government.

Weaknesses: Not a broad enough support base; too similar to some of the leadership candidates' messages.

Read Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s interview with him here.

 

Caroline Flint

Shadow energy secretary, MP for Don Valley since 1997, held various ministerial positions under Gordon Brown.

Caroline Flint is widely tipped to run for the deputy leadership. She resigned from her position as Minister for Europe in 2009 due to a fall-out with Gordon Brown, in which she famously commented that she had been treated as “female window dressing”. Serving in Miliband’s cabinet throughout his leadership, Flint has been able to detach herself from Labour’s past. She also impresses as a bullet-proof media performer, calm and competent when taking hits for Labour on television and radio. Veteran of the last Labour government, David Blunkett, is running her campaign.

Strengths: Impressive media performer; experience in government and opposition.

Weaknesses: Would she be wasted in such a role?

Read Caroline Flint's articles for the New Statesman here.

 

Stella Creasy

Shadow BIS minister, MP for Walthamstow since 2010, academic.

Stella Creasy has been so impressive in parliament that she was thought to be a leadership contender. But she has reportedly said she would be open to running for the deputy role. She is an impressive MP, working hard for her constituents (she won a stonking 23,000 majority this election) and also pushing tirelessly on individual campaigns – her fight against payday loan companies being the most well-known.

However, forever a "rising star", she hasn't shot up through the party ranks, and this is because she is seen as a bit of a lone operator by her fellow MPs. There may not be enough of a support base.

Strengths: Appeal beyond parliament; young, and a break from the past; impressive work ethic and ambition; broad appeal.

Weaknesses: Lacks strong support base in the party.

Read Stella Creasy's articles for the New Statesman hereRead my interview (for Total Politics) with her here.

 

Angela Eagle

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, MP for Wallasey since 1992, chair of Labour’s National Policy Forum.

One of the more quietly influential figures of the Labour party in recent years, Angela Eagle may be pitching for a job to save her from disappearing under Labour’s next regime. She did well under Gordon Brown, and it is possible she could run on a joint ticket with Andy Burnham (who is likely to contest the leadership).

Strengths: Has been in politics for a long time; experience of government and opposition; would receive support from the Brownites in the party.

Weaknesses: Associated with Labour’s past.

Read George Eaton’s interview with her here.

 

John Healey

MP for Wentworth and Dearne since 1997, shadow health secretary for Miliband's first year, held Treasury roles under Blair, served as Local Government Minister and Housing Minister under Gordon Brown.

This experienced Labour politician and quietly canny operator wasn't initially going to stand for the role. But he changed his mind, saying, “I’ve been dismayed at how narrow and shallow Labour’s debate has been so far.” He used to be campaign director of the Trades Union Congress, and has long been warning his party about the threat from Ukip in Labour's northern seats. He also urged Labour to talk about borrowing. 

He has nominated Yvette Cooper for the leadership, and in many ways is the Cooper candidate of the deputy leadership race: a Yorkshire MP with a New Labour past and some current Bluish Labour concerns who defends the last government's economic record. But they are not running on a joint ticket.

Strengths: Popular in the parliamentary party, experience in government, on the National Executive.

Weaknesses: Announced his intentions later than the other candidates, not a dynamic performer.

Read comments he made about borrowing to George Eaton here. Read his articles for the New Statesman here.

 

Rushanara Ali

MP for Bethnal Green and Bow since 2010, shadowed international development and education ministerial roles under Miliband, former civil servant at the Foreign Office and Home Office.

The first person of Bangladeshi origin to be elected to the House of Commons, Rushanara Ali resigned from the frontbench last year over Labour's support of airstrikes in Iraq. As ethnic minority voters are a focus, and she is from a working-class background, one of her key concerns is Labour losing votes to Ukip: "I’m used to rejection so I think I have something to offer . . . I know what it feels like to be an outsider trying to get in . . . I think a lot of our voters feel like that."

Strengths: A new voice, working-class roots, the only BME candidate in the leadership/deputy leadership race after Chuka Umunna dropped out.

Weaknesses: Not well-known, an unexpected candidate, announced her bid later than most of the other candidates.

Read Rushanara Ali's articles for the New Statesman hereRead my interview (for Total Politics) with her here.

 

Ruled out

Simon Danczuk - 20/5/15: Ruled himself out of the race

MP for Rochdale since 2010, working on the Westminster paedophile ring investigation.

Simon Danczuk, one of Ed Miliband’s fiercest critics throughout the past five years, says colleagues have approached him to run for the deputy leadership. As someone from a working-class background who has dealt with particularly gritty issues in his constituency of Rochdale regarding class, race and abuse, he would provide a voice for the party that many believes it has severely lacked.

Strengths: Authentic voice of working-class labour; his criticisms of the Miliband regime have been vindicated; tireless campaigner.

Weaknesses: His heart is in Rochdale; has he proved himself to be too disloyal for a senior party role?

Read Ashley Cowburn’s interview with him hereAnd my interview with him here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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