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24 August 2015updated 27 Aug 2015 3:11am

Gordon Brown backs Yvette Cooper – but it’s too late

Gordon Brown confirms what we already suspected - but it's too late to change the outcome.

By Stephen Bush

Nine days after delivering a speech in which he attacked – but did not directly name – Jeremy Corbyn, and 10 days after ballots went out to Labour party members, Gordon Brown has announced that he has voted for Yvette Cooper in the Labour leadership election. (He has cast a second preference for Andy Burnham and a third for Liz Kendall.) 

If you wanted to sum up the attempts to stop Corbyn in a single moment, this is surely it: slightly incoherent, high on rhetoric, low on organisation, and too late. 

Most members have already voted. Interest in the contest is waning. Even Corbyn’s most diehard opponents are now, for the most part, thinking about life after the leadership election, rather than what happens between now and September 12. 

Brown’s speech at the Royal Festival Hall was technically brilliant – ranging from RH Tawney to Nelson Mandela to Harold Wilson to Tony Blair – but, by not naming the Islington North MP, it lost any chance it had of making an impact on him – in fact, it allowed some supporters of the veteran leftwinger that the speech, which warned of the importance of securing power to enact principle, was in fact an argument in favour of voting for Corbyn. And, by not naming an alternative candidate, it made the other three candidates look like a much of a muchness. 

But the endorsement may help maintain Cooper’s status as the leader of what remains of the parliamentary Labour party’s Brownite wing, holding out the possibility that she could fight another leadership election, should Corbyn be forced out. That is the private calculation of some of her allies, who believe that a strong showing now will set her up as the safe pair of hands in 2017 and 2018.

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Are they right? Well, to be frank, Cooper’s bloc of MPs contains within it a number of MPs who are quietly sympathetic towards Corbynism and others who are parts of that vital coalition in any parliamentary party, MPs Who Like The Idea Of A Job On The Frontbench, as well as members of what you might call the “Continuity Brownite” tendency. 

History suggests that Cooper’s chance of holding that last chunk together are slim. After each leadership election, the Brownite wing has fractured a little further – Douglas Alexander ran David Miliband’s campaign, while Ed Balls and Ed Miliband ran against one another. Michael Dugher, who worked for Gordon Brown, and backed Ed Balls’ campaign for the leadership, is a key lieutenant of Burnham’s. Stephen Timms, once thought to be a close ally of Brown at the Treasury, is backing Liz Kendall, as is John Woodcock, who worked in Brown’s operation before becoming an MP.  

While it’s unfair to suggest that only the hope of preferement kept these MPs together – they are all unquestionably on the right of the Labour party – the idea that to help Brown was to help yourself, or to help Balls was to help yourself, or to help Cooper was to help yourself was certainly an important aspect in keeping the show on the road. There are still MPs who respect Brown and see him as their guiding light – however, none of those MPs was in any doubt before today that Cooper was his preferred candidate in the leadership race. Her struggle to remain relevant after defeat to Corbyn is unchanged. 

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