Whilst all eyes are on the leadership race, there’s a contest that’s just as important, if not more so.
The Labour deputy ;eadership was always seen as the consolation prize for the person who failed to get the top job.
I felt this was wrong. I always believed strongly that the politics of organisation were equally as important as the politics of ideas.
A Labour leader has the direct responsibility for leading the party and convincing people that the policies are right for them and the country.
But that requires good organisation and an electoral machine. And to do that you need to motivate volunteers, increase your membership and raise funds.
That’s why I stood to be deputy leader, to be that motivator and campaigner to get Labour back to power. I stood and lost against Roy Hattersley in 1987 and Margaret Beckett in 1992.
But it was third time lucky in 1994 when Tony and I were elected Leader and Deputy.
I stood for both posts whilst Blair only went for leader. As we waited backstage for the result I turned to him and said: “Tony, I’ve got a problem?” He looked at me nervously. “What’s that John?”he replied.
“Well I’ve only written an acceptance speech if I become deputy. If I get leader, can I borrow yours?”
From that moment on, I think we became a great team. In those three years before the election we doubled our membership and strengthened our organisation. Our ideas and organisation helped win an unprecedented three elections for Labour. Tony could concentrate on winning the election, safe in the knowledge that I had his back by building up our campaigning organisation.
That’s why the next deputy leader must be a born campaigner and organiser. You can’t do that job properly if you take a shadow ministerial brief as well. The task to rebuild our party is so immense that it needs someone focused like a laser on turning it around. We need a full-time Deputy Leader, not a Deputy Prime Minister in waiting.
And the one person who I think really gets this is Stella Creasy.
I was very impressed by her campaign against legal loan sharks and her commitment to community campaigning all year round.
I also really like her idea for the party to match funds raised by CLPs if they pledge to hit a certain target with more freedom as to what the money can be spent on.
We desperately need fresh campaigning ideas and innovative ways to raise money. Stella seems to be fizzing with ideas on turning Labour back into a sustainable campaigning party.
I think she’s got a lot to offer and I’m impressed she’s prepared to do the job full-time to get Labour ready for the electoral battles ahead.
But under our frankly bizarre leader and deputy leadership rules, the bar is too high to get on the ballot. We need as wide a field as possible. And Stella deserves to put her case to Labour members and supporters.
If I was still an MP, I would willingly nominate her myself.
But as I’m not, I really hope Labour MPs will nominate Stella so party members can have that real choice and debate on how we can become a campaigning movement again and start the journey back to Government. I also believe a Burnham-Creasy leadership could make a great team to appeal across the country.
Prezza for Stella may sound like I’m after a lager, but I think Creasy could refresh parts of the party other candidates cannot reach.
And I’ll raise my pint to a deputy leader that can do that!