Sunday, October 22, 2006

"What we need is a kind of female John Prescott"

Assuming that only MPs can stand for the deputy leadership, I think I would like Lynne Jones to be the next Deputy Leader. I usually agree with the way she votes, and the people in her constituency who probably know her best seem to like her, based on the branch meeting that I went to speak at a couple of years ago (there were about twenty people present, which is more than go to many constituency Labour Party meetings).

The only flaws with this plan are that, to the best of my knowledge, Lynne Jones has no interest in being Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and even if she were to, she probably wouldn't get on the ballot.

Talking to a friend who is supporting Gordon Brown to be leader, he said that the ideal deputy leader would be a 'kind of female John Prescott', by which I assumed he meant a working-class trade unionist able to appeal to 'Old Labour' supporters rather than any of the more troubling images which that idea conjures up.

The fact that Harriet Harman's argument that the next deputy leader should be a woman is transparently self-serving does not, of itself, make it a bad argument. It is a sorry reflection on the state of the Labour Party that all of the main contenders for leader, and all but one for Deputy, are men. The evidence of the past nine years, including some of the work that Harriet Harman has done as Solicitor General as well as the work of many of the female MPs elected since 1997 is that the Labour Party benefits both electorally and in policy terms from identifying and promoting able women.

The quality which I will want above all else in a Deputy Leader is the ability to spot when the government is planning to do something reactionary, unnecessary and unpopular, and stop it from happening. This strikes me as especially important if the leader is Gordon Brown, who is used to working with a small team of people who are absolutely loyal to him.

With most of the leadership contenders, their ability to do this is unknown. But not in Harriet Harman's case. When Gordon Brown decided to stick to Tory plans to cut lone parent benefit, a pernicious and totally unnecessary decision which particularly affected women and children. And Harriet Harman was the minister who implemented the policy.

Eight years on, she could point out correctly that lone parents are much better off than before Labour came to power, but that the decision to stick to Tory cuts was one which was wrong, which she regrets having supported, and that if faced with a similar situation in future she would stick up for the interests of working-class women and their families.

But she won't.

So instead, I'll probably vote for Jon Cruddas or Hilary Benn.


At 12:19 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruddas has an identity crisis. Benn is slightly loopy, just like his old man. And Lynne Jones looks like she used to work in Soho.

Margaret Beckett it will have to be.

At 1:04 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Working class trade unionist... able to appeal to'old labour'...'

That would be Jon Cruddas then...

At 11:23 am , Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Ann Clwyd would be good but I suspect she's getting on a bit (apologies for age discrimination). Also I've heard nothing to suggest she's interested.

At 2:22 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

One bonus of Cruddas is that he's only standing to be deputy leader of the Labour Party, and sees the role as being distinct from a govt portfolio.

So you could quite easily have a separate no 2 in the govt, be it a DPM, or just a senior minister designated as deputy, who could be a woman.

Benn will stand to be DPM, and though he has a good claim to high office, I don't want this contest to be about who gets what in Cabinet, I want it to be a real debate about the direction of the party.

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