Will the move by the “Honour the IRA” MP open up the race?
The last time that Labour left-winger John McDonnell got big headlines was three years ago when at an event to commemorate the IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands he is reported to have said: “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA.”
On the face of it, then, Gordon should be pleased that the first person to put his hat into the ring for the coming Labour leadership contest is a left-winger who has listed “generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism” as one of his interests in his entry in Who’s Who.
If the race is a straight Brown v McDonnell then clearly there is no contest and there must be doubts anyway over whether the challenger could get 44 fellow MPs to sign his nomination.
The real significance McDonnell’s announcement is that it kills dead the idea that there will be a Brown coronation and opens up the possibility of other more serious candidates coming in. Already there’s talk of a credible left-wing contender.
The big question is whether it also creates a pathway for someone on Labour’s Blairite wing to come into the race.
The Chancellor’s biggest strength in all of this is the widespread assumption that he will succeed and career-minded MPs are, naturally, lining up behind him. It’s going to be quite tough for any contender to find the necessary 44 MPs to sign the nomination.
Brown’s big weakness is the increasing worry about how well he’s equipped to have “a rapport with the middle classes” as Philip Stephens described it in the FT this week. The detail from the latest Populus Poll shows Brown’s Labour trailing Cameron’s Tories by 15% in the South East and the Midlands. Only in Scotland does Labour have an emphatic lead if the Chancellor is at the helm.
My view is that poll findings such as these will play a big part in the contest – just as they did in last year’s Tory election. Cameron would not have stood a chance without the polling evidence that he would bring more votes to the Tories than David Davis. The same will, I believe, apply here.
In the betting you can get 200/1 on McDonnell – but don’t waste your money. Brown is at 0.43/1 with Johnson having eased a touch to 10/1.