04 May 2009

Who wants it? Leadership contenders and hopeless cases come out of the woodwork

Now that the media has decided swine flu is a big hype (gives them a chance to make big headlines when it comes back and bites us on the ass later in the year, but not the most helpful way of covering the story), we must be thin on news, 'cos there have been a persistent stream of contenders for the Labour leadership coming out of the shadows. 

First it was Salacious Crumb, aka Hazel Blears. Then "Harriet Hitman". And they also threw Johnno into the ring. (Great hand movements, Alan). 

I have to say this does look like yet another big hype from the media, with no real substance whatsoever. Yes, the government is down in the polls; yes, there's been one crisis after another. But so what? We've been here before. Nine to twelve months before, to be precise. Now it is just possible that if Brown hadn't had that spike in the polls after the initial banking bailouts in October, someone - maybe David Miliband - might have made a move for the leadership. At that stage, with 18 months to go to an election, there was a reasonable chance of making a stab at a policy platform for a new leadership and going to the country without the new PM looking like a complete gamble. 

But that was last year. Even if a leadership election was triggered now (an unweildy process involving trawling round getting signatures from dozens of MPs and then a full ballot of MPs, party members and trade unionists) the winning candidate would have less than twelve months before June 2010, which I think is the last date an election can be held. The whole thing would look extremely rushed and it's unlikely that an alternative candidate could perform better than Brown under those circumstances.

So it looks like a very poisoned chalice to take up, even assuming a leadership challenge could be successful (far from a foregone conclusion). But let's pick the ball up and run with it for the sake of intrigue. Who would be the best candidate for Labour leader? 

We can dismiss Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman straight away. The fact that Hazel Blears was right to criticise the Government's decision on the Gurkhas should not lead anyone - least of all The Guardian, in a strangely wrong-headed editorial - to conclude that she has any clue about policy in general. She couldn't even come higher than fifth in the deputy leadership contest, let alone carry the country in a general election. A total bullshitter, absolutely useless. 

Harman at least managed to win the deputy leadership, but only by being a complete opportunist - appearing to be anti-Iraq war until precisely two minutes after the campaign finished, where it suddenly emerged she had apparently been pro-war all along. Less useless than Blears, but not by much. 

Johnson would be a good choice: he avoids the worst aspects of both Brown and Blair, and is more likeable than either Cameron or Clegg. He's probably the guy that Cameron is most scared of. I still don't think he really wants the job, though. There are circumstances in which you can become Prime Minister without really wanting it (Jim Callaghan in 1976 comes to mind) but that normally only happens if the incumbent resigns. And can anybody really see Gordon Brown resigning before the election? Surely there's no way.

What's most interesting in a way is who isn't being mentioned at the moment. No-one from the younger generation: in particular, David Miliband has been absent from the discussion, which is in stark contrast to summer '08, where he was being viewed as the main contender. Why is that? This is already quite a long post and I want to move on to talking about the most likely - and/or desirable - scenarios are at the next election and afterwards - so I'll continue this v soon.  

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