by Kevin Meagher
Being deputy leader of the Labour party is a bit like being president of a golf club. The role is largely honorary, conferring on its incumbent a level of artificial seniority, safely removed from the actual running of things. At least with the golf club, you might get a few free rounds. The reward for being deputy leader of the Labour party is the graveyard slot on Thursday morning at the party conference.
Historically, it’s been used to bring balance to the leadership, so, in essence, the post-holder represents the losing wing of the party. So it was with Denis Healey and, later, with John Prescott. Occasionally, a bone is thrown to show the party’s progressive tendencies. So working-class Ted Short replaced snooty Roy Jenkins and Margaret Beckett became the first woman deputy leader (and interim leader following John Smith’s death).
The only interesting pitch in recent years, from someone hoping to become the rear portion of this particular pantomime horse, came from Jon Cruddas when he went for the job back in 2007. He promised to forego a frontbench role and instead concentrate on the unglamorous task of developing the party’s organisation. Most other contenders are happy to inherit this pitcher of warm spit on the basis that an upturned bucket offers the chance to step-up.
But it doesn’t. Labour’s next shadow chancellor is an altogether more important appointment for the future of the party. Whatever analysis is eventually settled on to explain the party’s dire election defeat, routinely finding itself 20 points behind David Cameron and George Osborne on questions of economic credibility and who voters trust to manage their money was surely a huge part of it.