Preparing to do battle for Labour’s heart and soul

Gordon Brown’s resignation could plunge Labour into a messy leadership contest. GRAHAM DINES looks at the possible contenders

LABOUR cannot afford another coronation.

Nearly three years’ ago, the party annointed Gordon Brown as its leader. But as the Prime Minister’s popularity plunged, many of the party’s senior backbenchers regretted that he had not faced a leadership contest.

Brown said during the General Election campaign: “If I couldn’t make a difference any more, then I would go off and do something else.”

He’s been as good as his word, which presents Labour with both a challenge and an opportunity.

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The challenge is not to tear itself apart during months of campaigning by leadership rivals.

The opportunity is to conduct an orderly campaign which engages with the public, letting the party emerge stronger with a new leader after Labour’s annual conference in September.

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Under Labour rulebook, the new leader will be chosen by an “electoral college” process involving three sections - the first comprising Labour MPs and Euro MPs,; the second of individual members of the Labour Party; and the third of members of affiliated organisations, including 15 trade unions, the Co-Operative Party, the Fabian Society, Labour Students and other groups including ethnic minority, gay and disabled supporter associations.

Each of the three sections of the electoral college wields one-third of the voting weight in a leadership election, meaning that the vote of an individual MP is worth more than that of a grassroots activist or union member.

In order to take part in the election, candidates must be current members of the House of Commons and must secure the backing of 12.5% of the party’s MPs, which equates to 33 supporters following last week’s election. In all, 3.2million people will be allowed to vote.

Candidates can be nominated by MPs, Euro MPs, affiliated organisations and constituency parties, and must confirm their willingness to stand two weeks before voting is triggered.

At the last contested election of a Labour leader, in 1994, some 700,000 individuals were entitled to cast a ballot, but their votes were not all worth the same.

Voting will take place under an Alternative Vote system, under which candidates are numbered in order of preference.

If one candidate receives more than half of first preferences, after ballots have been weighted in accordance with the electoral college system, he or she becomes leader.

If no candidate crosses this threshold, the individual with the fewest first preferences is eliminated and his or her second preferences are redistributed among the others.

The process of elimination and redistribution continues until one of the hopefuls has secured more than 50% support.

So here’s a rundown of who could be in the frame to take over from Brown:

Harriet Harman - Now acting leader of the party following Mr Brown’s resignation the former deputy leader is the only woman in the running for the Labour leadership.

The former Solicitor General, Leader of the House and minister for women and equality, surprised many by her victory in the ballot to be Mr Brown’s second-in-command, winning through by scooping up second preference votes in the party’s electoral college system.

Few would bet against her doing so again. Ms Harman, 59, is married to Unite deputy general secretary Jack Dromey, who also stood as Labour candidate in Birmingham Erdington.

Alan Johnson - As a former joint General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union and holder of heavyweight Cabinet posts from Health Secretary to Home Secretary, Mr Johnson, 59, was often portrayed as the man most likely to succeed Mr Brown when the premier was being criticised for seeming aloof and lacking the common touch.

He has made great play of the need for electoral reform alongside the shake-up of the Westminster expenses system, saying last year: “We need to overhaul the engine, not just clean the upholstery.’’

The ex-postman would also hope to garner valuable union support.

David Miliband - Nicknamed “Brains’’ by Tony Blair’s former spin chief Alastair Campbell, he would be seen categorically as a Blairite contender for the leadership, ready to wrest the reins of the party back from the Brownite wing.

The Foreign Secretary, 44, is said by some commentators to have ducked taking on Mr Brown in the past with leadership challenges which could have ousted him before the General Election.

He was also famously photographed looking more awkward than usual clutching a banana outside Labour’s party conference.

As the former head of the Downing Street Policy Unit under Mr Blair, he has experience of the sharp end of life in No 10, but tribal loyalties could count against him.

Ed Miliband - Brother of David, the 40-year-old Climate Change Secretary was previously a key advisor to Mr Brown.

He is seen as more easy-going and fluent in public than his older sibling.

He was first elected as an MP in 2005, the same Westminster generation as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and has in the past been tipped for high office just as often as David - whose appointment at the Foreign Office was widely seen as a peace offering to the Blair camp.

As probably the youngest of any contenders he could hold out the hope of a real fresh start for his party - but would he be happy slugging it out at the hustings with his brother?

Ed Balls - Once Gordon Brown’s closest economic advisor at the Treasury, the Children’s Secretary would be seen as the premier’s chosen successor and would undoubtedly square up to David Miliband if the contest reverted to tribal New Labour loyalties.

Mr Balls, 43, was also one of the 2005 intake of MPs and would be expected to gather support from Labour’s powerful union backers, especially the Unite union.

His combative, sometimes abrasive, style would ensure a fiercely-fought contest.

But he may suffer from being seen as the heir of a man who had chosen to “go off and do something else’’.

Jack Straw - Now the closest that Labour has to an elder statesman in the Commons, the Justice Secretary, former Home and Foreign Secretaries, would definitely be viewed as a holding leader.

His appeal could be to offer a period of calm, while the party debated its future policy direction in opposition or government.

Mr Straw, 63, would probably have to be elected almost by consent rather than through fierce debate - or could come through the field as opponents cancelled each other out.

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