DEPUTY’S ROLE COULD BE CRUCIAL
The extraordinary last minute surge in people wanting to join, affiliate to or support the Labour Party ahead of the leadership election deadline, makes a Jeremy Corbyn victory very possible
Corbyn is an outlet for frustration after years of top down leadership where activists were told what the policy of the party was to be. But if Corbyn wins, what happens then? Well the first thing that will happen is the election of a Deputy Leader. The last two Deputy Leaders of the Labour Party have had important roles in a post that can often be pretty low profile. John Prescott was the party’s link with the working class and trade unions when middle class New Labour was all the rage. Since 2007 Harriet Harman has held the post being loyal to the leader and party and championing the cause of women.
Next month the deputy’s star is almost certainly going to be pinned on Tom Watson. I think it is an unimaginative choice and will leave the party with two men at the top. I discuss the other candidates below, but for the moment let us consider a Corbyn/Watson leadership because Corbyn’s opponents are already discussing how the left winger can be contained and many see Watson as the man to do it.
Watson is certainly a party bruiser with a background in the old Amalgamated Engineering Union. He called for Tony Blair to quit in 2006 and was forced to resign as Labour’s election coordinator in 2013 when he became embroiled in a row over the role of Unite in the Falkirk Labour selection contest.
One journalist has written that a Corbyn/Watson pairing would be like Trotsky and Stalin, a reference to the perception that Corbyn is an ideologue whilst Watson is a party fixer. The thought is that Watson will try and keep the party together organisationally during the expected mayhem of a Corbyn leadership.
Watson is certainly to the right of the potential leader. He wants a tougher line on immigration and Russia, and wants bigger Armed Forces. He probably has the toughness to stand up to Corbyn but it says much about the state of the party that some are looking for a deputy with the potential determination to remove his leader.
My choice for Deputy would have been Ben Bradshaw the MP for Exeter. One of the biggest challenges facing Labour is how to win in the South. In May Bradshaw’s big increase in the party’s vote in Exeter was in sharp contrast to its general failure in southern England. Bradshaw is a winner in a tough part of the country for Labour, and deserves a senior position in the party.
Liz Kendall is not going to become Labour leader and if Yvette Cooper fails too, the party will have two men in the leadership positions. This despite the fact that three credible women have put themselves forward for Deputy Leader, Stella Creasy, former minister and Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, and Wallasey’s Angela Eagle.
Eagle has been a voice of calm in recent days when many of her Labour MP colleagues have been calling for the election to be stopped or for candidates to stand down to stop Corbyn. There seems little prospect her voice will be heeded.
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