Thursday, August 6, 2015

A guide to the Labour Deputy Leadership Candidates 2015


With all of the attention Jeremy Corbyn has been generating with his bid to become Labour Party leader, it's easy to forget that the position of deputy leader of the Labour Party is also up for election.

Several people have written to me to request an article providing more information on the five candidates to become Labour's second in command, so here it is.

I'm going to profile the five candidates, then conclude by stating some general conclusions.

   
Tom Watson

Tom Watson is the runaway favourite to become deputy leader of the Labour Party. At 48 he is the second youngest of the candidates, and he's been an MP since 2001.


Watson picked up 61 nominations from his fellow MPs (more than any of the other candidates), many from the small band of Labour "good guys" like Dennis Skinner, Ian Mearns, Richard Burgon and Greame Morris. He also won 164 Constituency Labour Party nominations, which is almost as many as all of the other candidates added together (Stella Creasy came second with 77).

Watson served as Minister for Digital Economy between 2008 and 2009 where he worked to open up government data to public scrutiny, and encourage government departments to consider the use of in-house solutions and open source software instead of signing inflexible and expensive outsourcing contracts every time they needed to deal with an IT issue. It's always nice to see a government minister who has a bit of knowledge in their field and enthusiasm for what they're doing.

It's no surprise that he is the leading candidate for the job of deputy leader, he has a decent amount of ministerial experience, a track record of campaigning on issues like Phone Hacking, the paedophile politicians scandals, and in opposition to his own party's hopelessly botched Digital Economy Bill. Another thing that counts in his favour is that all of this public campaigning has made him a relatively well known face, at least amongst the politically engaged.

The only significant black mark against him is that he was caught out during the expenses scandal. He was nowhere near as egregious as many of his parliamentary colleagues, but he wasn't completely clean either, spending the maximum allowance of £4,800 on food in 2005 (the equivalent of 85 weeks worth of Jobseekers' Allowance in 2005 prices).

Watson has made it clear that he believes that Labour is at its strongest when it is standing up for ordinary people and campaigning against injustice. I'm pretty sure that's a message that anyone could get behind.


Tom Watson's voting record at They Work For You.


Stella Creasy

At 38 Stella Creasy is by far the youngest of the candidates, and having only been an MP since 2010, she's also the least experienced. Despite her age and lack of ministerial experience, she is running second in the race, comfortably ahead of the three other candidates, but significantly behind Tom Watson.

Before becoming an MP Creasy worked in PR and lobbying, which is hardly confidence inspiring stuff, but since entering parliament she's actually impressed a lot by leading the campaign against the exploitative practices of Payday loan companies (that have been known to charge vulnerable people annual interest rates of over 5,000% on their loans).

In 2013 Creasy was subject to vile misogynistic abuse on Twitter, and I couldn't agree more with her assertion that rape threats are criminal behaviour "not a matter of bad manners". The following year one of her abusers was jailed for the rape threats he had made against her.

Creasy has talked a lot about how Labour needs to become a modern grass roots organisation that listens to its party members and to ordinary people rather than dictating terms from above. Even if she doesn't become deputy leader, I'm sure her ideas will still be more than welcome.


Stella Creasy's voting record at They Work For You.


Angela Eagle

Angela Eagle is 54, and having been an MP since 1992, she's the most experienced of the five. Under Gordon Brown's leadership of the party she served in two treasury position and as pensions minister. In opposition she served as Shadow Leader of the Commons for Ed Miliband.

Eagle comes from a working class background, but then she's also an Oxford PPE graduate which is by far the most over-represented demographic in Westminster politics, with dozens of politicians having studied this Oxford University course.


In April 2008 Eagle, who was Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury at the time, made a howler every bit as bad as Liam Byrne's ludicrous "there's no money" note (if not worse because what she said wasn't even intended as a poorly considered joke). Her response to Liberal Democrat concerns that the UK was experiencing a housing bubble was to dismiss them as "a colourful and lurid fiction that has no real bearing on the macroeconomic reality". We all now know what was going on in 2007-08 and how property prices crashed and the financial sector ended up being rescued from complete insolvency with the biggest state sector interventions in history. If anyone had no understanding of the macroeconomic reality at the time it was actually Angela Eagle.

Eagle is probably best known as the MP who was on the receiving end of David Cameron's sexist "calm down dear" put down, which is a bit sad really because she's had a long and successful political career. I don't have anything against her, but she just doesn't strike me as the kind of inspirational politician Labour need in order to fight back against the Tories either.


Angela Eagle's voting record at They Work For You.

Caroline Flint

Caroline Flint is 53 and has been an MP since Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997. She had a difficult upbringing and knows what it's like to struggle on the breadline, so one would expect her to be able to empathise with the many victims of Tory ideological austerity.

If you think Angela Eagle's gaffe about the state of the economy during the biggest economic crisis in generations was bad, then you're going to be horrified at some of Caroline Flint's blunders.

When Flint was Minister for Europe she made a public admission that she hadn't even read the Lisbon Treaty, which was quite extraordinary given that her role was to oversee the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty! In May 2008 she was photographed entering Downing Street with her briefing papers visible, which included an admission that "we can't tell how bad it will get" in relation to the ongoing economic meltdown that Angela Eagle had been dismissing as "a lurid and colourful fiction" just the month previously!

Flint made headlines again when she resigned from Gordon Brown's government with an attack on his personality and a claim that she'd been treated like "female window dressing". Regular readers will know that I'm no staunch defender of Gordon Brown, but if her job was to be more than "female window dressing" the least she could have done is read the vital documents she obviously should have, and not allowed the press to photograph her confidential briefing papers!


Flint is also responsible for an appalling piece of ideologically driven government legislation that completely ignored the scientific advice. During her stint in the Home Office she pushed through legislation to classify raw psylocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) as Class A drugs, meaning a potential 7 year prison sentence for anyone who as much as picks one of Britain's most commonly occurring wild mushrooms! The fact that she drove this illogical legislation through parliament marks her out as the kind of authoritarian ideologically driven moral puritan who stands in the way of this country ever adopting a rational evidence based drugs policy.

I find it alarming that Caroline Flint is running third in the contest, but then perhaps that says more about how poor Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw are as candidates than it does about her suitability for the job?


Caroline Flint's voting record at They Work For You.

Ben Bradshaw

Bradshaw is 54 and he too became an MP in 1997. Most of the polls having him vying with Angela Eagle to avoid finishing last in the contest, which is no surprise.

When he was a health minister he advised people who couldn't find an NHS dentist to go to their GP - advice that was ridiculed by the British Medical Association; his claim that GPs were operating "gentlemen's agreements" to stop patients moving between surgeries was described as "absolute nonsense" by the BMA, and he even launched a defence of excessive parking fees at NHS hospitals with a bizarre claim that the funds were needed in order to provide NHS services, even though the NHS ran a large £1.8 billion surplus that year.

What is worse than all of Bradshaw's gaffes is the fact that during his time at the Department of Health he oversaw a number of NHS privatisation schemes that laid the groundwork for the outright Tory assault on the NHS that was the Health and Social Care Act 2012.


Another black mark against Ben Bradshaw is the fact that he was a staunch defender of the disastrous NHS National Programme for IT that saw costs balloon from £2.3 billion to £12.4 billion before it was scrapped. In 2013 the scheme that Bradshaw was so keen to defend when he was a health minister was lambasted by the Public Accounts Committee as one of "the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos ever".

Despite his appalling track record as a health minister, Bradshaw is clearly a good constituency MP, having won his seat in Exeter off the Tories in 1997 and kept it ever since. On the electoral map of the UK Bradshaw's constituency is a tiny dot of red in a vast ocean of blue down south.

Ben Bradshaw's voting record at They Work For You.


Conclusions

It is worth noting that of the nine candidates for leader and deputy leader, five of them are female. It could be seen as a cause for celebration that there are so many women in the Labour leadership contests, however, in my opinion Stella Creasy is the only one of them with really good leadership potential, and three of the others (Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint) would surely drive people away from the Labour Party in droves, so maybe it's not that good after all.


I don't have much time for Angela Eagle, but in my opinion she's nowhere near as bad as gaffe prone disasters like Caroline Flint and Ben Bradshaw. It should be a relief to most people that these three candidates are all vanishingly unlikely to get the job.

It gives me a bit of faith in the grass roots Labour Party membership that the two leading candidates in the deputy leadership election are the two I consider to be the outstanding candidates. Tom Watson looks very likely to win, but Stella Creasy is still very young so it wouldn't be a disaster for her to come second. I think she would make a very good shadow minister in a Corbyn-Watson led party, and judging by her first five years in parliament, she's got a bright future ahead of her whatever the outcome.


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