Labour leadership. TV Hustings will give the unknowns a chance to shine

Labour leadership. TV Hustings will give the unknowns a chance to shine

Don Brind on how the battle might evolve

I sat in a pub in Croydon a couple of days before polling day after an evening canvassing with Clive. We agreed that we had a brilliant Labour candidate in Sarah Jones – but what about Ed Miliband and the doubts we had both heard on the doorsteps? What did Clive think?

“He can’t tell a story, can he?” said Clive. It was exactly the same conclusion I had come to after hearing the Labour leader being interviewed by Nick Ferrari on Classic FM. . It was a friendly interview which gave Miliband the opportunity to talk about his family and their flight from Nazi occupied Europe. Except that none of the stories came alive.

It reminded me that back in 2010 I had changed my mind about supporting Ed after watching him perform weakly alongside brother David on a televised Newsnight hustings. As time went on I had warmed to Ed; particularly his living standards analysis and his emphasis on inequality, which Tony Blair has acknowledged was a gap in New Labour’s approach. And it’s true that his performances improved but the doubts raised by the TV hustings were never fully removed.

Labour members and voters will get the chance to judge the current contenders when Newsnight stages the first hustings of the leadership election in Nuneaton on June 17th.

It will provide a fascinating contrast with the 2010 event when one woman, Diane Abbott, was flanked by four blokes – the Milibands plus Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. Next month Burnham will contend with three women, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh. It will give the unknowns a chance to shine

There is a near parallel with the TV challengers debate during the general election when Ed Miliband appeared with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, the Green’s Natalie Bennett and Plaid’s Leanne Wood.  It was the high point of Miliband’s campaign with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee enthusing: “Calm, relaxed, even laughing sometimes, he hit all the buttons … Once he thought presentation didn’t matter – now he knows better.”  

Burnham, MP for Leigh and shadow Health Secretary and the best communicator in the Shadow cabinet has, arguably, the most to lose. According to the bookies he’s the frontrunner but  anyone thinking of betting should remember that, as in the 2007 deputy leadership election when Harriet Harman beat Alan Johnson, 2nd preferences can be crucial.

Like Burnham the Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Pontefract and Castleford Yvette Cooper  is hugely experienced. But she will be looking over her shoulder at Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh. Kendall MP for Leicester West and shadow Health and Community Care minister performed impressively in an interview with Andrew Neil  So too did Mary Creagh., MP for Wakefield and shadow International Development Secretary Both interviews are worth a watch.

At the moment I’m not tipping anyone or supporting anyone. On June 17th and at subseqent hustings I will be looking not just at the performances on the night but at potential.

Back in 1990 as a BBC political producer I stood next to Peter Mandelson as Tony Blair made his first major platform speech at a Labour Party conference. An attack of nerves half way through the speech had him clinging to the lectern like a life raft. What did I think of the speech asked Mandelson. Not bad I said adding that Gordon Brown’s speech earlier in the day had been brilliant. What I had overlooked was the young lawyer’s potential. Mandelson had spotted and nurtured it.

Offering a convincing account of the positives and negatives of the Blair legacy will be another test for his would-be successors. That’s a question for another day.

Don Brind

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