Henry G Manson looks at the record to assess the chances
One of the first things sports punters try to assess is recent form. In political betting this information is scarce and can make for a punting minefield. However last yearâ€™s Labour deputy leadership results provide a form guide of sorts for a leadership contest this side of an election. Despite recent exuberance, it doesn’t look at all good for David Miliband who is leading the charge from the Blairite right of the party.
The field of six for deputy spanned much of the political terrain of the Labour Party. Whilst all candidates had differently styles and personalities, it is possible to classify the political broad support as expressed in real first preference votes through the electoral college of unions, parlimentarians and members:
The Blairites (Blears plus 50% Johnson) 20.84% The most ardent Blairite cheerleader in last yearâ€™s contest was Hazel Blears and she finished last, despite being the partyâ€™s high profile chairperson. The centre-right candidate was Alan Johnson who finished second. Crucially, Johnson was able to use his union background and reach further into the centre ground of the party and the affiliates who make up a third of the vote. Iâ€™ve therefore only allocated half of his vote to the Blairite category. It would take an exceptional candidate such as Tony Blair in â€˜94 or someone with great reach like Alan Johnson to win from this ideological position.
The Centre (Harman, Benn plus 50% Johnson) 44.2% Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman were the two centrist candidates last time out. Iâ€™ve allocated the other half of Johnsonâ€™s vote into this section reflecting the view that his union standing and hinterland which wouldnâ€™t be typical of a Blairite challenger. This middle section of the party is where the action is and these candidates benefit from preferences from their left and right. If you want a likely winner look at centrist candidates like Harriet Harman, John Denham, Jack Straw or failing that Alan Johnson.
The Left and Centre-Left (Cruddas and Hain) 34.71% Jon Cruddas led from the left and won the most number of first preferences, despite having no public profile when he launched his candidacy. He faced no hard left candidate but was competing with Peter Hain for territory on the centre-left. Since the deputy leadership election Hain has resigned from Government and has left acres of political ground for Cruddas to plough. This part of the college is sizeable and shouldnâ€™t be underestimated, but as Cruddasâ€™ 3rd place result suggests, itâ€™s hard to beat centrist candidates within the current voting system.
Having no ministerial experience would seriously impair Cruddasâ€™ chances in a leadership contest while the party is in Government. Don’t forget his deputy challenge was around a slightly different proposition to his rivals – more as a link between the grassroots and Government and not the baubles of DPM. These figures suggest that he would get a respectable result but that he is unlikely to win this time. Whichever centrist candidate he supports would have a great chance of winning.
Conclusion Going by the most recent election we can see that only 1 in 5 votes of Labourâ€™s electoral college are from the New Labour right-wing of the party. A leadership candidate with strong centrist appeal would have double the base of an orthodox Blairite like David Miliband – a huge headstart.
The centre ground makes up a massive proportion of Labourâ€™s voting constituencies and I just donâ€™t think Miliband will be able to win against a middle of the road candidate. This election if it took place soon could come down to a choice of Harriet Harman as the centrist candidate tilting to the centre-left or Alan Johnson leaning towards the Blairite right. Between them Harman has the bigger secondary constituency within her reach. If Johnson ducks this and backs Miliband then even more centre space would open up for her and her chances could increase further.
Itâ€™s therefore important to take the views of broadsheet commentators with a pinch of salt. Rather than a re-run of the 1994 leadership contest, the electoral college formbook suggests a likely defeat for David Miliband. Harriet Harman is the most certain of the centrist candidates to stand and Mike Smithson has already written about the advantage of a female candidate in Labour contests. These factors combined should make her the firm favourite.
Henry G Manson