Mr Benn, deputy?

I keep returning to this story, like a criminal returning to the scene of a crime, even though it is of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. As usual, apologies for rushed and sloppy nature of the piece. So it goes.

Big Benn
Hilary Benn, the International Development secretary is the favourite to win Labour’s deputy leadership after he won the backing of the most constituency parties. The left-winger Jon Cruddas, a former minister who has won the support of the leadership of Amicus and the TGWU, the two largest unions in the UK, came second, followed by Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister.

This is something of a turn up for the books for Hilary Benn: he struggled to get enough nominations from his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party. It was expected that Education secretary Alan Johnson would win the deputy leadership, but if the results of the CLP nominations are anything to go by, he’s out of the race – he came fourth. Peter Hain came last, behind Hazel Blears, despite having a great deal of publicity in the course of his campaign and being the most famous of the six.

Cruddas was boosted by an appearance on a special edition of Newsnight on Wednesday with the five other deputy leadership candidates. In this debate, Johnson referred to progressive taxation as “punitive taxation”, taking a leaf from the Luntz School of Propaganda. There seemed to be a concerted effort to dispel myths of a “lurch to the left” in the campaign put about by the Tories: it is a trap that some in New Labour will be eager to walk into.

Dirty (half) dozen
Of the six, Cruddas came over best as he had a febrile nervousness and unrehearsed style, in contrast to the robotic monotone of Hazel Blears, for example. The six were asked by Jeremy Paxman who they would nominate if they were not standing. Only Cruddas answered this question, the rest prevaricated. Perhaps I read too much into the appearance – doubtless this approach is to Cruddas’ advantage, and a cynic might suppose it was deliberate.

His candour is welcome, but I have no illusions about his campaign. The left wing of Labour has never been so weak, and has not united around Cruddas in the wake of John McDonnell failing to get onto the leadership ballot. (Cruddas is perceived as being soft left and McDonnell is though of as being hard left; Cruddas is tainted by having voted for the Iraq war, though he now says Labour should apologise, whereas McDonnell opposed the war consistently. I doubt I’ll ever hear Cruddas use the word “imperialism” in relation to British foreign policy…)

It is true that the post of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is a position without power – but a win for Cruddas would be symbolic of the discontent felt by Labour’s base. Historically, many workers felt that voting Labour was part of a class struggle and that the Tories represented the interests of employers: now, the Tories are keen to carry on the policies of New Labour.

Mr Brown? Sounds like Mr Shit
Gordon Brown seems willing to have the party playing a purely electoral role. What need is there for a party of “consumer politics” to have a base in the working class or links with trade unions? At the launch of his one-man leadership non-election, Brown hinted he would include politicians from other parties in his administration, a “government of all the talents” as he termed it. This suggests Brown is willing, at the least, to enter a coalition with the Liberals and perhaps even form a national government.

Cruddas winning deputy leadership would do no more than embarrass Brown. There is nothing Cruddas could do as deputy to prevent Brown continuing in the vein of Blair. It might even be that he would act to prevent the unions acting against the government in a co-ordinated fashion.

Right now, Benn is the safe bet – his name has some weight, after all although he is not anything like his famous father, who I suspect was instrumental in him getting this far. There is a contradiction here: Tony Benn is opposed to New Labour, the war in Iraq and privatisation; Hilary Benn is part of New Labour, still supports the war and is in favour of privatisation. It would have made more sense for Tony Benn to back Cruddas, who at least expresses a need to rethink policy in order to save the party, but family has trumped principle.

McDonnell, by the way, is on record as saying the deputy leadership is irrelevant, and is unlikely to back Cruddas. His Campaign Group colleagues have opted for Benn junior – perhaps they imagined it was a vote for Bennism by proxy…

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