Would-be PM Johnson's speech falls flat

EDUCATION Secretary Alan Johnson's chances of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership were badly damaged today when his speech to the party in Manchester received only luke warm support.

By Graham Dines

EDUCATION Secretary Alan Johnson's chances of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership were badly damaged today when his speech to the party in Manchester received only luke warm support.

Although the former postman has yet to declare if he is a candidate, he has been seen as the heavyweight Cabinet minister most likely to garner support for those promoting “anyone but Gordon.”

Meanwhile, a “London Essex” MP and former Downing Street aide Jon Cruddas threw his hat into the ring in the race to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader.


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The left-of-centre backbencher warned that Labour had “lost its way” and said that it was time to “rebuild our party from the bottom up.”

Mr Cruddas, who joins Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman as declared contenders for the deputy leadership, could receive the backing of trade unions and would appeal to those MPs who believe Labour has lost its traditional values under Tony Blair.

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Announcing his candidacy on the Simon Mayo show on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Cruddas said: “I am standing to be deputy leader because change is desperately needed. As we stand, the party is not in a fit state to fight the next general election.

“It's time to rebuild our party from the bottom up.”

Mr Cruddas, 44, has been MP for the “London Essex” seat of Dagenham since 2001. He was assistant to two Labour general secretaries from 1994, then joined Mr Blair's staff in 10 Downing Street as deputy political secretary after the election victory of 1997.

Despite his work for the PM, he is on the left of the party and has rebelled against the Government over the imposition of university tuition fees.

A vocal opponent of the British National Party, which has sought to build a stronghold in his east London seat, Mr Cruddas has criticised Mr Blair for neglecting Labour's traditional working-class constituency in favour of wooing the middle classes.

Announcing today that he would be in the field for the deputy leadership contest when John Prescott stands down, he said: “Reaching out to our people doesn't mean coming up with better soundbites and spin, it means coming up with better policies.

“We need to reaffirm our belief in collective action through local communities, through public services, through strong and effective trade unions.

“In the election, there will be a choice: change or more of the same. I am standing because the party needs, and wants, to change. It's time to reach out again to our natural supporters, written off for too long.

“It's time for change - and I am the candidate that will deliver it.”

The son of a sailor brought up near Portsmouth, Mr Cruddas gained a PhD at the University of Warwick before entering political work. He is married with one son.

He announced plans to open a campaign office within the next week and is expected to unveil supporters among MPs, members and trade unionists in the next few weeks.

In his conference speech, Mr Johnson announced plans to assist children in care, which will see an extra £100 put into their child trust fund for every year they are away from a home environment.

And his much flagged initiative to open state schools on Saturdays was presented to conference delegates, which will offer “catch up and stretch” lessons as well as sport, music and drama.

Mr Johnson said Labour was the first government to recognise the importance of early years learning. And in his best joke in an otherwise fairly ordinary speech, he said: “The Tories thought a creche was something that happened between two Range Rovers in Tunbridge Wells.”

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