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14 May 2015

After Ed, who’s next? The six candidates vying to lead the Labour Party

From activists' darling Andy Burnham to long shot Owen Smith, here are the hopefuls for the Labour leadership.

By Stephen Bush

Editor’s note: on 14 May, Mary Creagh announced her candidacy. On 15 May, Chuka Umunna withdrew from the race, citing unexpected pressures on those close to him.


The activists’ darling
Andy Burnham

Burnham, the Everton-loving Manchester MP, stands out from the rest of what he has dubbed the “adviser generation” – although, unlike Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband, he went to Cambridge rather than Oxford. He worked for Tessa Jowell and was once considered the great hope of the Blairites, with stints as a suitably austere chief secretary to the Treasury and at the Department of Health. But since 2010 he has gone on something of a journey, marking himself out as one of the shadow cabinet’s most persuasive and charismatic left-wing voices.

Support base: Labour MPs on what used to be called the old right, who are concerned about crime, Labour’s decline in working-class communities and the threat of Ukip – plus the trade unions and the left.

Pitch: Ed Miliband, but better-looking. For the many in the party who think the message wasn’t wrong but the messenger was, the likeable and attractive Burnham offers a chance to try again.

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Pros: Nice man. Lovely eyelashes. The one that your non-political friends will want to have a pint with.

Cons: It’s not clear what there is beyond the surface. Risks being a Steven Gerrard figure – lots of passion, but missing out on the biggest prizes. Most dangerous of all, haunted by the Mid Staffs hospital scandal, which occurred partly while he was health secretary. 

The smooth operator
Chuka Umunna

Born and raised in Streatham, south London, which he now represents, Umunna was one of the earliest backers of Ed Miliband’s leadership bid, for which he was rewarded with rapid promotions. But since taking on the role of shadow business secretary, Umunna – a former darling of the soft-left Compass group – has undergone an ideological transformation, talking about the need to woo business and help people make “their first million”.

Support base: Many of his earliest supporters from the Compass days are still onside and he will pick up a large chunk from the more right-wing Progress group, although some in that organisation are unconvinced by Umunna’s change of heart. He is very much first among equals in the 2010 intake.

Pitch: Labour lost because it wasn’t on the side of people who want to make something of themselves; it didn’t offer enough to the middle classes. Expect a focus on constitutional reform – Umunna is still a strong supporter of proportional representation. If he’s smart, he’ll make a subtle reference to the fact that if anyone can look cool eating a bacon sandwich, it’s him.

Pros: “Yum”, as one female Conservative MP put it. Umunna certainly looks the part, and he has been one of the very few Labour MPs to criticise the party’s rhetoric on immigration. Expect him to receive some reward from the more liberal party membership.

Cons: He is still plagued by accusations that he’s lightweight and some see his ideological journey as a sign of inconsistency. And with Ukip making inroads into Labour’s vote in the north and Wales, many MPs will ask whether Britain is ready for a black prime minister. 

The iron lady
Liz Kendall

Born in a small village outside Watford, Kendall worked at the Institute for Public Policy Research when the Milibands, Cooper, Burnham and Balls were cutting their teeth in the wonk world. But unlike the rest of that generation she went to work in the wider world, at the Maternity Alliance and the Ambulance Service Network, before becoming an MP in 2010. She was also, however, a special adviser to Patricia Hewitt at Health, who describes her as having a “core of steel”.

Support base: The “Heineken” candidate: reaches parts that others can’t. Thus, backed by Blairites as well as Alison McGovern and John Woodcock,
who both worked for Gordon Brown, and the Blue Labour guru Maurice Glasman. May also draw supporters keen for a woman but looking for a newer face than Cooper.

Pitch: Blairism minus the control-freakery. Thinks Labour needs to put more trust in local government; that it must appeal to people wrestling with mortgages as much as those struggling to make the rent. An unabashed pro-European.

Pros: Not tainted by a front-line role during the Blair-Brown years; a confident performer on television and radio; has “a brain the size of a planet”.

Cons: Who? Also: doesn’t suffer fools gladly; lacks the institutional support of her big rivals; might not be able to command the big beasts in her shadow cabinet. 

The long shot
Owen Smith

A former radio producer and special adviser to New Labour’s Welsh secretary Paul Murphy, Smith joined the party aged 16 and was elected the MP for Pontypridd in 2010. Regarded as a rising star on the Labour left: “he has done the awkward squad proud”, in the words of one possible supporter. He was made shadow Welsh secretary in 2012.

Support base: The Labour left in the membership would give Smith a decent chance – if he can get enough MPs to help him on to the ballot paper (he needs 35). Many of the party’s 2015 intake (the most left-wing in some time) like him, but they may throw their weight behind Burnham, who is less trusted but seen as more likely to win.

Pitch: Will combine the narrative that a politician from the 2010 intake is required to move on from the disaster of 2015 with doubling down on the need for a more left-wing politics. Just as Hunt may be successful in positioning himself as a more authentic alternative to Umunna, Smith could set himself up as the real thing to Burnham’s Pepsi.

Pros: Quietly impressive, untainted by the failures of both the last Labour government and the wider Miliband project. The general election went particularly badly in Wales and he could be instrumental in the fightback.

Cons: A virtual unknown in the press in England, although he has a higher profile in his native Wales. 

The survivor
Yvette Cooper

Since her election to the ultra-safe seat of Pontefract and Castleford in 1997, Cooper has gained experience across government – serving at the Department of Health, the Treasury and the DWP. Before that, she read PPE at Oxford, studied at Harvard and the LSE, and worked as an adviser, first to John Smith, then Labour’s shadow chancellor, and later to Harriet Harman, then Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury. Since Labour’s move to opposition in 2010, she has served as both shadow foreign and shadow home secretary. Her husband is the now ex-MP Ed Balls, a polarising figure.

Support base: As the last of Gordon Brown’s protégés, she will inherit what remains of that once-formidable machine, including the vocal support of some of the most prominent Labour MPs.

Pitch: Her tenure as shadow home secretary was marked by a tough approach on crime and security in public and private battles with the more pro-immigration voices of Labour’s Foreign Office and Business teams. She is likely to sell herself as being able to reconnect with the voters the party lost to Ukip in Wales and the north.

Pros: Has a CV as long as your arm; learned her trade from Gordon Brown; would go some way to bringing back the voters Labour lost to Ukip.

Cons: Has a CV as long as your arm; learned her trade from Brown; might not play so well in the big cities where Labour did well. 

The history man
Tristram Hunt

Despite his private-school education, Hunt is from a Labour family – his father, a meteorologist and Labour peer, was leader of the Labour group on Cambridge City Council. He worked at Labour HQ during the 1997 landslide, then studied for a PhD at Cambridge. He has been an MP since 2010, most recently serving as the party’s education spokesman.

Support base: Blairites, history buffs, people who like Hugh Grant films. More seriously, he will get some backing from people who like the sound of what Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall are offering but are jittery about the electoral implications of electing a black man or a single woman.

Pitch: Labour was defeated because it lost touch with working-class voters, wasn’t seen as supporting aspiration and wasn’t trusted to run a whelk stall. Hunt has one of the most working-class constituencies in the country, and there’s no better way to show that you’re comfortable with the well-off than having a leader called Tristram.

Pros: Telegenic, bright, called Tristram. Has worked to make friends in the parliamentary party and will receive favourable press from the more Labour-hostile papers.

Cons: Called Tristram. Disliked by the party membership; and has mostly struggled to make his voice heard on education matters. May be squeezed out of the race by Umunna and Kendall.

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