Let’s hope the candidates out-perform the campaigns

Tuesday 18th May
So far, the leadership campaigns have been pretty shambolic. There is no sense that any of the contenders have a pre-assembled team which has kicked into operation.  Rather, they all seem disorientated by the lack not only of the civil service support to which they’re accustomed, but even of what remains of the Labour apparatus which served them as best it could during the election.
The nearest to organised is Balls.  In part this is just because his core team – in keeping with his niche in the party – boasts better organisers.  People like Tom Watson, Ian Austin, Michael Dugher and John Spellar may not exactly have ‘rainbow coalition’ or ‘next Labour’ printed on their t-shirts, but they are well acquainted with the mechanics both of internal elections and of external spin.
Balls is also the one who has done the most work over the last five years.  He’s the only one who’s been assiduously traipsing round the Friday night rubber chicken circuit of local Labour parties since 2005.  He has made the most effort to court the unions, and starts ahead in that section of the electoral college.  And he has worked harder than David Miliband, though perhaps not than Ed, at convincing his fellow Labour MPs to like him.
David is the favourite for a reason.  On the face of it, he is the best candidate.  But he has not had a good campaign so far.  Sensitive to the perception that he ‘bottled’ several chances to unseat and replace Gordon Brown as PM, he was determined not to appear to dither this time.  Which led to the comical first launch of his campaign: standing limply outside St Stephen’s entrance to the House of Commons flanked by a rag-bag assortment of obscure MPs, needing only Tony Marlow in a stripey boating blazer to complete the allusion to John Redwood’s hilarious 1995 leadership bid.
His second launch, yesterday, was better.  Some sage Blairites were impressed.  “Next Labour”, though, is not a name that will still be on the notepaper in 15 years time.  Behind the scenes of the campaign will be people like Jonathan Kestenbaum of NESTA raising money, DJ Collins of Google advising on the “messaging” and James Purnell, if we’re not mistaken, playing an important political role.
An early D. Miliband endorser was Alan Johnson, the man who everybody knows would have made the best leader.  David should learn from Johnson’s 2007 deputy-leadership campaign: he was by far the strongest candidate, ran by far the worst campaign, and lost.
Ed Miliband is yet to show much.  A Fabian conference was a strange place to launch, though that was probably an accident of circumstance.  Some beltway spin connoisseurs are reporting surprisingly aggressive briefing.  (This is code for saying mean things about the opposition).  His chief spinner, Polly Billington, takes no prisoners, giving such reports some credibility.  It’s hard to imagine it getting nasty between the brothers, but stranger things have happened.  Let’s hope not.
Burnham has no discernible campaign apparatus yet, but is running.
Parliamentary endorsers are unusually few.  The PLP is waiting till it’s more obvious who’s going to win before bravely swinging in behind him.

Eyes down for a full house

Tuesday 18th May

As one might expect, Labour MPs are being telephone stalked by leadership candidates.  The harassment takes different, if equally unsurprising forms:  big Miliband is imperiously brusque; little Miliband is meanderingly genial; big Ed is focused; Andy is apologetic.

Calls can come at any time of the day or night.  They have everybody’s numbers. (David Miliband, whose election campaign was more of a leadership election campaign, asked party regional offices for the phone number of every PPC whose patch he drove through during the campaign, “so that he could call to wish them luck”). If you don’t reply they just keep calling.  Nobody is safe.

All four are phoning, and determinedly, but in a targeted way.  We have yet to meet an MP who has been hounded by all four.  A modest prize awaits the Labour Member who can – honestly – claim a full house.

Life beyond electoral death for Labour’s Special Advisers

Tuesday 18th May

It has been 14 years since we’ve had such a contest, but Labour still elects its Shadow Cabinet.  This is a quaint practice which used to be a web of corruption.  Ray Powell, the former MP for Ogmore and accommodation whip, was the spider at its centre.  He collected blank ballot papers in return for larger offices and other whiply favours.

Regional blocks were a big thing in those days.  As were voting bands of drinking buddies and over-representation by those more courtly and solicitous than they were talented.

The modern Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not go back to those ways.  Where it will go is not clear.

At its first meeting last Wednesday – called at the height of the post-election bargaining frenzy – the PLP decided that there would be no Shadow Cabinet elections till after the new leader had been chosen.

The way these strange ballots work is that the PLP elects the Shadow Cabinet, with the number of votes cast for each candidate being published.  This creates a ranking order, with stars at the top.  It humiliates those who miss by miles.  This is a reasonably effective disincentive to frivolous candidature.  The leader (who, along with the deputy-leader and the chief whip, is elected separately) then allocates the portfolios.  He is not under any formal constraint when he does so, but the unwritten principle is that the better jobs go to those who got the most votes.

Shadow Cabinet members, of either stripe, receive what is called Short money from the public purse to finance the extra staff their extra duties require.  (It is named after Labour’s former deputy-leader, Ted Short, who campaigned for it – and who still sits in the House of Lords, aged 97).

Labour is now the Opposition.  The Short money kicks in immediately.  So who gets it this spring and summer, with no Shadow Cabinet elections for months?  The answer, apparently, is that members – including attenders – of the last Cabinet will keep their Special Advisers until the new Shadow Cabinet is elected. 

This includes those (of which there are a few) who don’t plan to stand for the Shadow Cabinet.  And all of those who are running for the leadership.  Which will doubtless come in handy.

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