John Healey, the former Labour housing minister, has become the seventh MP to run for the party’s deputy leadership, making an already busy field more crowded.
His entry, following consultations with his colleagues in the parliamentary party, means that at least one or two of the already declared candidates will not make the ballot paper since each needs nominations from 35 MPs. There are 232 Labour MPs, so mathematically there are not enough to ensure all seven reach the ballot paper.
The others competing for the deputy role are Rushanara Ali, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint and Tom Watson.
Making his announcement, Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne and a member of the party’s national executive, said he originally had no intention of standing but added: “I’ve been dismayed at how narrow and shallow Labour’s debate has been so far.”
Writing for the Guardian, he said: “I know I’m a late entrant when others have been up and running for some time. But the scale of the defeat, the complexity of the lessons and the huge task of holding things together while we rebuild requires a unifier – someone who can work across the political breadth of the party and with the unions.
“Our new leader must be able to give their total attention to establishing themselves and re-establishing Labour with the country. Labour’s internal affairs have to be left largely to others but their deputy must be much more than a party manager and motivator.’
He argued that Ukip was critical to the party’s failure to win more of the 85 seats in England and Wales it would have needed for a Labour victory. “In these 85 constituencies, Ukip was a minor player in 2010, polling fewer than 125,000 votes in total. This time was different. Ukip won over half a million votes, and added 10 percentage points to its average vote share.”
Healey is a former campaigns director at the TUC and was one of the first MPs to raise concerns about the threat posed by Ukip in Labour’s northern heartlands. He has strong support in the parliamentary party and replaced Dennis Skinner on the national executive in 2014.
He has already nominated Yvette Cooper for the party leadership and might be seen as the deputy that Cooper would favour. Many senior figures have urged the party to have a gender-balanced ticket, so if the leader is male, the deputy is female and vice versa.
In practice Labour’s timetable makes it impossible to guarantee such a gender-balanced ticket. Nominations for the deputy leadership will close on 17 June, two days after those for the leadership, giving some leeway for MPs to take account of the leadership nominations before plumping for a deputy candidate. But it is not clear if joint tickets will emerge, either formally or informally.
Healey has been one of those former government members to defend Labour’s record on spending before the crash, saying: “In hindsight we should have closed the small deficit we had before the global crash by small tax rises or small spending cuts, but that’s a total distraction from the hard fact that the worldwide financial crisis and recession caused the UK’s large deficit by 2010, and it’s a diversion from the crucial post-crisis task of building a fairer, stronger economy which the Tories have still failed to do.”
The Labour deputy leadership candidates
The MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is perhaps the most unexpected candidate. From a working-class Bengali community in Tower Hamlets, she got a place at Oxford to study PPE, and later went on to work in the civil service before becoming the first associate director of research at the Young Foundation in London’s east end. She has written widely on Muslim community alienation and resigned from the frontbench over Ed Miliband’s decision to back allied bombing in Iraq last year. An astute questioner on the Treasury select committee, she has said she wants the party to focus on voters lost to Ukip. Her election might slow any shift of ethnic minority voters from Labour.
A former culture secretary, he is a fluent broadcaster and knowledgeable about Europe. He has managed to hold on to his seat in Exeter, avoiding the defeats that befell other Labour MPs in the south outside London. He has said that a “successful centre-left party in Britain wins from the centre-left, not the left. Economic competence, combined with social justice: without the first we can never deliver the second. We need our party and next leader to celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem”.
The chair of the Labour national policy forum and shadow leader of the house has an acerbic wit capable of putting most Tory ministers on the back foot. One of the first openly gay MPs, she said of the election result “the party had endured a total political and strategic failure”. She has argued: “We fell into the trap of focusing to much on our ‘ground game’ without ensuring that the messages we were taking to the doorstep were robust and aspirational enough. Nor were they expressed in everyday language but rather in phrases which managed to be focus-grouped to death, often sounding weird and meaningless to most.”
The Labour MP for Walthamstow has probably been the most successful campaigner of the Labour 2010 intake on issues such as payday loans, using Twitter not just to bring her constituency together but lead campaigns. She has argued for a different, more user-involved form of public services and urged the party to get a sense of optimism ahead of the election, a view others are now adopting. Her campaign has won the support of Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley, and if she gets on the ballot paper, she may do well with the large London membership.
The shadow energy and climate secretary is probably the candidate with the longest ministerial experience as MP for Don Valley. She has been a regular confident performer on TV and radio. At a Progress rally, she said the 2015 result was worse than 1992, claiming “you cannot win just by loving the NHS, however much you do” and adding a precondition of success was regaining trust on the economy. She said: “Aspiration is not the preserve of the middle classes, I want it for the working classes. I want a Britain where hard work pays, responsibility is rewarded and where everyone plays by the same rules.”
He is likely to get on the ballot paper since he has strong support in the parliamentary party, topping a shadow cabinet poll in 2010 and becoming one of the three PLP reps on the party national executive in 2014. He spent four years in the engine room of the Treasury under Gordon Brown and was also a housing minister with a seat in the cabinet at the end of the last Labour government. Respected for his political judgment and eye for detail, he would not pretend to be a flamboyant public speaker. Although he is supporting Cooper, he is not offering himself as a joint ticket with the shadow home secretary.
Watson is probably the candidate most committed to defining the role of deputy as galvanising the party’s organisation, reflecting his own history as a party campaigner and union political organiser. He visited 109 constituencies in the seven weeks before polling day and came to the view that the 4 million doorstep conversations may have identified the Labour vote but not engaged communities, especially on immigration. A former minister with a controversial background in Labour’s internecine feuds, he is not backing any leadership candidate and says he will work with any democratic choice. In recent years, he has tried to shed the “union man” image and persuade voters to look at his relentless campaigns on issues such as phone hacking and child sex abuse.
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