The University of Nottingham is hardly the Iowa caucuses. But Labour’s leadership and deputy leadership elections are the closest we’ll get to the ‘glamour’ of US politics.
I’ll declare now that I’m an Andy Burnham supporter. I’ve known him for several years and believe he’s what Labour needs now. Someone who can pick up a bruised and battered party, move us back to the centre ground of British politics and get a hearing from lost Labour voters and Tory switchers.
Whilst Andy and Yvette both got a good reception, the 500 plus members in the room clearly have a lot of respect for Jeremy Corbyn. They know we wouldn’t stand a chance with him as leader but he is the soul of the party. He’s not the messiah or a very naughty boy. He’s John the Baptist, a not-for-prophet.
My feeling is that Jezza will surprise many on first preferences and beat Liz Kendall into third place.
Labour supporters are also fiercely loyal to people they trust and believe in fair play. Tributes to Ed were warmly applauded, whilst criticism of other candidates frowned upon.
When one of the leadership challengers in the room criticised others by name, there was a disapproving mumble in the audience. The person sat next to me said: “Why did they do that? There’s no need for it. Be positive!”
But for me the Leadership hustings was the entrée for the main course – the Deputy Leadership debate.
As a former PCC candidate (you may remember me from such campaigns as David Prescott – a Fresh Start for Gainsborough) I was really keen to hear where the DL candidates stood on the role.
I submitted a question not expecting it to be called but Mary Riddell then called me to stand up and read it out “as someone with a connection to a former Deputy Leader.”
I said the task of getting back into power was so huge, would the candidates commit to doing the job full-time and without a portfolio in opposition.
John had always argued for the post to be turned into a full-time campaign role. When he was finally elected as Deputy Leader in 1994, that’s exactly what he did. The membership doubled and Labour built a feared election-winning machine that delivered two landslides and three successive wins.
But in 1997 we only needed to win 55 seats to get a majority. In 2020 we have to gain 94 – only 51 less than the 97 landslide. Standing in at the Dispatch Box and record appearances on Question Time won’t be enough.
The first to answer was Caroline Flint, who made a silly point that JP took a ‘large department’ when Labour won. The fact I was talking about the role in opposition failed to stop her. Caroline clearly does see it as a route to Deputy Prime Minister.
Whilst I have a lot of time for both Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw (especially Ben in the south) for me, it’s down to Tom and Stella.
Both have strengths and weaknesses. You can’t doubt Watson’s campaign prowess, party experience and guts for taking on Murdoch on phone hacking. But an all-male Blair/Brown minister ticket isn’t ideal. But Burnham might have solved that problem by saying he’d make a woman shadow first secretary of state (a shadow DPM in all but name.)
Tom’s also promising to lead a digital revolution – from digital Labour Party branches for those who can’t make it to that drafty committee room on a Tuesday night to making it easier to input voted ID from the doorstep.
For Stella, her passion and experience of driving successful campaigns against payday lenders is beyond compare. Every time I hear her, I want to knock some doors! But would she be wasted running Labour’s electoral machine when she’d be better developing those emotive campaigns and motivating members?
I’m glad I campaigned to get Stella on the ballot because she deserves to be there. She’s earned the shot and on the strength of the Nottingham hustings, she’s going down well with members.
I particularly loved her response to a mental health campaigner about wanting to introduce her online to a similar activist in Birmingham so they could campaign together. For Stella, connectivity is the key.
But the task we face is so unprecedented, I don’t think one Deputy Leader can do it solely by themselves. We need extra capacity and experience.
Tom has fought ten election campaigns and countless by-elections. It would be madness not to utilise his knowledge and expertise.
He’s the closest we have to a Deputy Prescott for the 21st Century – a true Cyber Warrior.
So why should we have to make a choice between Watson and Creasy?
I want a Drenge-Gedge mash-up – an indie-music driven, election winning, machine/movement.
Watson or Creasy? Can’t we have Watsy?
I’ll be voting Tom Watson for Deputy Leader because no one knows how the party works better than him and his plan puts digital engagement at the very heart of Labour’s renewal.
It’s an engine room job so let’s put him in control of the machine.
But I’d like to see Stella build the movement – drafting the campaigns, improving our relationships with members, supporters and potential switchers.
My dream team is Tom as Deputy Leader with Stella as Deputy Chair, the role Watson had under Miliband.
They’d both have clear roles that play to their strengths and complement each other.
I’m backing Tom to be a brilliant Deputy Leader.
But I’m still InterStella.
So let’s have both.