Who will be the next Labour leader?

by Dan Hodges

One day the unthinkable will happen. We will be forced to stop all the clocks. Ed Miliband will cease to be Labour leader.

For those of us who have supported him loyally from the outset, it will be tough to come to terms with. But struggle on we will, because that is politics, and that is life.

Then our gaze will fall upon another. Were Ed to slip under the wheels of a passing automobile tomorrow, aside from hoping his brother possessed a cast iron alibi, the search for his replacement would be unlikely to extend beyond the same household. Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper would be a shoo-in. The contest would probably be decided around a kitchen table in Stoke Newington.

But throw things forward a few years. Let time march on. Who are the standard bearers of the next, new generation?

Over the last couple of months two names have begun to flutter around the tea rooms and stronger watering holes of Parliament. One has not exactly fluttered, but soared. Chuka Umunna, a political prospect so hot that bookmakers William Hill and Victor Chandler have (wrongly) installed him ahead of Ed Balls in the leadership sweepstakes. The second name is less heavily supported by the turf accountants, but is starting to attract increasing interest from those inside the Westminster beltway: Stella Creasy.

Chuka is not an MP. He is a concept. A lifestyle choice. Most new MPs enter Parliament determined to make their name. When Chuka first strode through Westminster Hall he had already been identified as “One of Ten People Who Could Change The World”. One colleague ungraciously remarked that he’d do better to concentrate on changing Streatham.

Stella entered, if not below the radar, certainly emitting a low level signature. With a reputation for being a diligent, if low profile ministerial adviser, her election as Neil Gerrard’s replacement in Walthamstow drew little comment. But those in the know had earmarked as one to watch. When she had first joined her previous employer, the scouts association, they were all tents, woggles and golden jubilee badges. When she left they had become, “a worldwide youth movement with the stated aim of supporting young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development, so that they may play constructive roles in society”. Although they didn’t know it, the scouts had just embraced Blairism.

The approaches that both young pretenders have pursued since their elections have been strikingly different. Chuka set himself the modest goal of constructing a new global economic programme. Though a new MP for only eight weeks, he published an “alternative budget” in an open letter to George Osborne, secured election to the prestigious treasury select committee and was appointed Ed Miliband’s PPS. He certainly attracted attention; not all of it flattering. “He’s always there, floating around as part of Ed’s entourage”, said one hack, “God knows what he does, but I suppose he does it elegantly”.

While Chuka went global, Stella stayed local. In fact, her early focus was micro-localism. Where Twitter followers of Chuka would be regaled with his latest searching question on the appropriate setting for the financial activities tax, a typical communication from Stella would be, “Trying to break into the shopping centre so I can welcome a new vicar to  Walthamstow”. Again, there was an up and a downside. While it enhanced her reputation as a conscientious MP, she slipped ever lower in the Parliamentary pecking order. She was overlooked when Ed appointed his front bench. “Stella who”? said another lobby hack who had asked my opinion of future stars amongst the new labour intake, “You mean that girl who used to top and tail Charles Clarke’s speeches”?

But the House of Commons is the great leveler. And while it frequently levels down, it can also level up. Especially when people have, and stick to, a clear strategy. Both Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy have strategies.

Speaking to one of Ed Miliband’s inner circle, I expressed doubt about Chuka’s high profile approach: “He’s wearing a big target on his back that he’s painted there himself”, I warned,  “People are gunning for him”. “Maybe”, came the reply, “but they keep missing”.

They most certainly do. His assaults on bankers’ bonuses and lenient levels of corporation tax are cutting through. He has demonstrated an ability to use his position on the treasury select committee as an effective platform, rather than merely a perch. Real substance is emerging to compliment the style.

Stella has also broken through. Her campaign against illegal loan sharking, overlooked by the media and much of Westminster, burst into life after she deftly maneuvered the prime minister, not to mention a significant portion of the Tory party, into a position where it could no longer be ignored. “Is Stella Creasy the next Labour prime minister”, asked both the Independent and the Wall Street Journal. Not yet. But, like Chuka, she has shown a flash of star quality to sit alongside her gravitas.

Both face pitfalls. Chuka has conceded to friends that he has found the Parliamentary experience harder than he imagined, especially given that he is juggling his own projects with his role as PPS. Stella, in contrast, has had little experience of the limelight, and was surprised, and a little unprepared, for the burst of media attention that followed her friendly exchange with David Cameron at PMQs.

They also need to tread a careful political path. Although Chuka Umunna is lazily perceived, as are all Labour politicians with a decent suit and ability to string two sentences together on Question Time, as “New Labour”, he  rose from the ranks of the Compassite left. It will take some skill to maneouvre himself into the Labour mainstream while avoiding the inevitable accusations of careerism and betrayal.

Stella’s journey begins from the opposite flank, and involves overcoming leadership suspicion of her support for David Miliband, and previous roles working for Douglas Alexander and Charles Clarke.

On that journey, neither will want for advice. Those close to Chuka say the main task will be to ensure he keeps his feet on the ground, and pays little attention to his own publicity. “The best approach is for all of us around him is to keep taking the piss out of him”, says one associate, “When he came into a room soon after he was elected we all stood up. He got the message”. Friends of Stella dispense similar wisdom. “She needs to keep her head down and remember the Blair rule. Ensure you rise without a trace”.

It’s not an inappropriate comparison. Gordon Brown blasted all before him in a wave of high profile, economy-centric, intensity. Blair moved forward in a careful, measured and focused way. Both secured the ultimate prize. But Blair got there first, and stayed a lot longer.

Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy are following different paths. But they converge at the same destination. Given Labour’s recent experience, let us just hope they don’t arrive simultaneously.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.


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32 Responses to “Who will be the next Labour leader?”

  1. Mark Allen says:

    Lone sharking???

    Are you looking for a new proofreader Dan? 😉

    Good article, though you could also throw Rachel Reeves and Lisa Nandy into the mix in my opinion.

  2. David Talbot says:

    Interesting. I happen to think that the 2010 Labour intake of new MPs was prehaps the best the party has had in a generation; the likes of Umuna, Creasy, Emma and Jonny Reynolds, Perkins, Reeves, Kendall, Woodcock and Hunt are potentially are MPs with bright Cabinet careers ahead of them.

    But given I backed Ed Miliband but 10 months ago in the leadership election, I think the article’s question is a touch premature..

  3. An excellent, interesting read though why do I feel sorry for Ed Miliband after reading it?

    I agree with David Talbot about the new crop of labour MPs who entered parliament last year. Personally I think they were amongst the best I can remember particularly impressed with capabilities of half a dozen or so new female MPs some but not all of whom have been mentioned above. Think the more understated of the new intake may rise to the very top myself. They’ll have to get in the queue first though behind Ed M, David Miliband and Yvette Cooper..

  4. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to speculate on the Party Leadership – we have a leader and we have alternatives if something dreadful happens – that is enough for now – putting anyones name in that frame is a kiss of death – people said similar stuff about David Lammy a few years back – but I reckon that the newly sworn in Dan Jarvis will have a long and successful career in frontline politics – he is southern(ish) with a solid northern seat – articulate, presentable, some serious cedibility earned in the Paras and to top it all he is a good bloke with a good brain. One to watch me thinks.

  5. John Smith says:

    When you say ‘For those of us who have supported him loyally from the outset’ you’re of course not talking about yourself, right?

  6. Delbert Wilkins says:

    “Good article, though you could also throw Rachel Reeves and Lisa Nandy into the mix in my opinion.”

    This reminds me of a man who once told me in all seriousness that Dave Anderson stood a good shout as a successor to Blair.

  7. Dan Hodges says:

    John,

    Most certainly not.

    Dan

  8. Inkelectric says:

    Two great vignettes of two obvious contenders for future leader.

    One bijou point: Stella Creasey was “overlooked when Ed appointed his front bench”? Overlooked in her first month in the job? She’s clearly already past it.

    There are many others though. Most of them have 5-10 years’ experience and are still “young” for a leader.

    It’s doubtful if at any time in the last 50 years you could have confidently predicted the leader eight years on. Elections and events intervene. The present leader is a case in point.

    One great development though, it is new realistically to predict that a woman in her first year as an MP will be the leader in around 10 years. I think this is the first time it’s happened. (Prove me wrong someone.)

  9. Hodges at his satirical best.

  10. David Miliband or Dan Hodges I reckon.

  11. william says:

    OK, satire, but there is no certainty that Labour will even exist in a few years time, because the party is bankrupt, and if you cannot repay your creditors,it is illegal to continue to trade.

  12. UniteJon says:

    Still think Labour did themselves a big disservice by not getting John McDonnell on the ballot sheet for the last Labour Leadership contest. I think he would have forced the other candidates to declare their position on several issues that are central to the politics of our day. Where should Labour stand in relation to the trade unions? What role does socialism play in the philosophy of the party? Does Labour now want to hold the central ground, or will it take a strong left position until the balance from 18 years of Tory government followed by 13 years of New Labour has been properly redressed?

    These are questions that Ed Miliband has yet to take a strong stance on, with the result that the TUC and many thousands of ordinary people will be marching on the 26th of March, without any certainty that there is a mainstream party that is committed to support their cause.

    Labour can’t have its cake and eat it. If it wants the funds that the trade unions provide, then it must support the 1.5 million public sector workers who are expected to lose their jobs. It must support the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed who are going to have their benefits reduced. It must support the protection of a public NHS for all people. It must support the right to take an employer to a tribunal. It must support the principal that those who caused the recession must pay the lion’s share of the cost of recovery. And it must do all these things vigorously.

  13. Prodicus says:

    Ballses: it’s ‘shoo-in’ and they wouldn’t be unless of course the whole party has drunk the Kool-Aid which increasingly seems possible.

  14. Mike Killingworth says:

    Umunna and Creasy sit for London seats. No Labour leader since Attlee has done so. (Mind you, no US President since Kennedy came from north of the Mason-Dixon line until the present one. These “rules” are there to be disproved, I suppose.)

    And I can tell UniteJon what role socialism plays in the philosophy of the party these days. None whatsoever. The likes of Tom Harris would happily vote for a Bill making socialism a criminal offence.

  15. Keith says:

    As much as I like Ed Milliband, I cannot see him or any of the current shadow cabinet becoming PM because he is too closely identified with the Brown era, and Brown’s years as PM were totally discredited. He will need to disown this period much more, particularly with selling out to the bankers and Nixonian style of politics of his former master.

  16. Anon E Mouse says:

    UniteJon – You really exemplify the problem Labour has in a nutshell.

    You can have as many marches as you like but until you start being truthful – and your ridiculous estimate of 1.5 million job losses shows you most certainly aren’t being – Labour has no chance of governing this country.

    If Labour supporters are stupid enough to elect Balls or Cooper as leader they are as doomed as much as if the current hapless leader remains in his post.

    It’s time for for Labour supporters to grow up. Elections are won from the centre and not from some student politics like Socialist nonsense…

  17. Why not Jim Murphy?

  18. Geoff Juff says:

    Pathetic ! Your aspirants are all celebrity-driven bankrupt pygmies who have nothing in common with Labour’s brainwashed ‘droid’ electors in your besieged Northern and Celtic heartlands. True Islington and District shatteratti!!

  19. Stuart says:

    The, rather large, stumbling block to their becoming Leader is that they are both piss poor blatant self advance merchants. On second thoughts they might do quite well actually.

  20. Yorkshire Terrorist says:

    Of the two, it will be Creasy who will float to the top. Chuka does believe his own hype – he snaps up every opportunity to grab the limelight, while forgoing the great opportunity he’s got as Ed’s (junior) PPS to build good relationships with the PLP. Well, except a certain Liverpool MP, of course. Funnily enough he doesn’t seem to have been on the BBC much since the change in Shadow Chancellor.

    Don’t forget that Stella’s Andy Burnham’s PPS, so she’s not too far behind him in terms of the ladder. His own star is on the rise too, remember – he’s probably the best performing SSoS since October, his coat tails wouldn’t be a bad place to hang on to.

  21. Richard says:

    I think you do need a new proofreader Dan. Stella Creasy’s campaign is against legal loan sharking, and not ‘illegal’.

  22. doreen ogden says:

    Dan Jarvis . Definately the one to watch.

  23. Jada says:

    Would we have had this article if your man, David, had won the leadership election? I guess that’s one for your friend Rentafool.

  24. Forlornehope says:

    Of course if the economy recovers there is little chance of Labour winning the next election or the one after. If it doesn’t Labour is going to inherit the most almighty train wreck, a bit like 1983 and the three day week but worse. Either way the choice of leader could be pretty academic.

  25. AmberStar says:

    Andy Burnham was my first choice for leader; Ed Miliband my second. But now Ed has been elected, I am more than happy with our current leader.

    I confidently predict that Ed Miliband will be the UK’s next Prime Minister – & I am sure that he’ll take great care when crossing roads. 😉

    I also believe that Ed Miliband will lead our Party to several election victories. Dan, writing articles about the next leader is sheer, unadulterated fantasy.
    😎

  26. Yorkshire Pudding says:

    I am spectacularly unimpressed with Ed M’s Leadership.

    A half competent Government would see him off in a flash.

    I was hoping for something in policy terms.

    Nothing.

    Ok, I thought, it’s early in the game, I’ll look for a broad direction of travel.

    Nothing.

    Quite how by doing nothing and saying nothing you can get an 11 point lead is a mystery to me.

    I do think that the next Labour PM will be someone from the 2010 intake. No baggage. Chuka is the star, but I think he may set off too many peoples ‘Blair’ alarms. I think someone who works hard a bit under the radar will build up the support of MPs, and go for Leader hen Ed get beaten in 2015.

  27. Brian Coker says:

    I think Ed is just perfect for running the Labour Party. His famous speech on Saturday, barely audible above the shouting and glass breaking by his old mates around the corner shows that he hasn’t a clue about anything especially sorting out the spending mess of his predecessor. Like Arthur Scargill he knows how to whip up violence on the streets but as Arthur soon learned it wont bring down the government or start a revolution.
    Hopefully it will help the Labour Party and their Union bosses to self-destruct in as shorter time as possible.

  28. Merseymike says:

    Two London MP’s…..

    Watch Lisa Nandy. About time we had a woman leader and she is impressive

  29. Merseymike says:

    However, I’m talking about 12 years ahead

  30. Very interesting post. I can see some similarities with the challenges we face here in the U.S.

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    1400 Chester Ave., Suite C
    Bakersfield, CA 93301
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  31. Sophie says:

    Please, for christ’s sake, don’t maneuver Chuka Umunna into the party mainstream. Why not maneuver the party mainstream towards him? Then I and many people I know might actually consider voting for you again. As it is, there is no opposition…therefore no democracy

  32. Sam says:

    Surely Milibands successor will depend on the reputation of the next labour government (if as expected it is formed in 2015). If it comes out of it relativly well (like Attlee, Wilson, or Blair) then a great office of state occupant (probably Yvette Cooper, Balls or Douglas Alexander) will probably replace him. If Miliband leaves office after losing an election, or with a terrible reputation (like Callaghan or Brown) then a minor cabinet minister, probably from the 2010 or 2015 intake will replace him.

    Personally i would like the next labour leader to be much younger and a woman, to make it clear that it is the most socially progressive party in britain, and that it looks to the future not the past

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