The contest to become Labour’s deputy leader has been gathering pace during the last 10 days, with the six candidates – Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas, Peter Hain, Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson – going head to head at a series of hustings.
The first of these, organised by Progress and the Fabian Society, took place in London on 16 May. The following Sunday (20 May) the candidates ventured out of London to Warwick arts centre at an event that saw Cruddas break ranks with the other candidates by calling for a halt to private sector involvement in the NHS.
Two days later (22 May), the candidates set out their views on faith and values at a hustings in London organised by the Christian Socialist Movement. Harman applauded churches for their support in her campaign to abolish of human trafficking and said: ‘The Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marxism.’ The event also saw candidates discuss issues such as faith schools, migrant workers and narrowing the gap between rich and poor.
In between the various hustings, Hain and Cruddas have found time to officially launch their campaigns for the deputy leadership.
In a speech in which he pledged to rebuild relations between the party and grassroots activists, Cruddas reiterated his intention not to take on a Cabinet job if elected. ‘I respect all five other candidates who are all excellent ministers in the government, but running a government department is not the job of a deputy leader and it’s not the job I am applying for – I want to be full-time deputy leader of the Labour party, not deputy prime minister,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Hain used his campaign launch to emphasise his credentials as an independent minded politician. ‘As you all know, I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind, to tell it straight,’ he said, reiterating his argument that ‘more of the same’ will not win the next election.
After a difficult start, Hilary Benn’s campaign received a boost last week when the bookies ranked him as joint 2-1 favourite alongside Alan Johnson to become deputy leader. Benn’s campaign chairman, Ian McCartney, said: ‘It is party members and trade unionists who will decide who the real favourite is. But the bookies have picked up on what the opinion polls have been saying for months – the grassroots of the Labour party trust Hilary Benn to speak up for the things they care about.’
With everything still to play for, the six candidates last night faced arguably their toughest test yet: a grilling from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in the first televised debate of the hustings.
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