Deputy coup for Harwich Labour members

LABOUR Party members in East Anglia will be the first in the country to vet candidates for the deputy leadership - even though technically there is no vacancy.

By Graham Dines

LABOUR Party members in East Anglia will be the first in the country to vet candidates for the deputy leadership - even though technically there is no vacancy.

The January hustings at the University of Essex at Wivenhoe are a feather in the cap for the fledgling Harwich and Essex North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) - newly formed under major boundary changes to parliamentary seats in Essex - which has invited the candidates to appear.

Senior Cabinet ministers are lining up for a contest once John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and the party's number two, steps down when Tony Blair announces he is quitting Downing Street.


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Mr Blair has put no timetable forward for his departure, but it a contest is likely to be triggered after the English local government, Scottish Parliament, and Welsh Assembly elections on May 3.

With Chancellor Gordon Brown the odds-on favourite to succeed Mr Blair - although he could face a formidable challenge from Home Secretary John Reid - candidates for the deputy leadership are jockeying for position.

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Invitations have been sent to some of the Cabinet's big hitters International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, Education and Skills Secretary Alan Johnson, and Commons Leader Jack Straw.

Harriett Harman, Minister for State at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, and Dagenham MP John Crudas are also being asked to speak to party members.

David McCaskey, press officer for Harwich and Essex North CLP, said the hustings would help raise the profile of the Labour Party and the new constituency.

“We are aware that no contest has been called and will not be until John Prescott steps down,” said Mr McCaskey. “However, we are giving a platform, not too far from London, to all those who have expressed an interest in standing.”

All Labour Party members are eligible to vote in the leadership election, which comprises three equal electoral colleges - trades union, parliamentary, and activists.

Other constituency parties backing the East Anglia hustings are Colchester, Chelmsford, Maldon, Braintree and Witham.

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