Hard Labour: contenders for the UK's toughest leadership role

15 May 2015 -


The Labour Party is at a crossroads following its general election drubbing. So who has the management style and credentials to lead it back to success? We look at the runners and riders

Jermaine Haughton

Today’s shock move from Chuka Umunna to pull out of the race to be the next Labour Party leader has bewildered grassroots supporters and left the field wide-open.

After sustaining 48 constituency losses – with 40 of them in Scotland alone – the Party’s electoral showing has ensured that the job awaiting Ed Miliband’s successor will be viewed without much envy. With Umunna out, there are now five contenders who have publicly begun their quest for the Labour throne, which will be settled – alongside the deputy leader role – on Saturday 12 September.


1. Andy Burnham

Age 45

Constituency Leigh

Position Shadow health secretary

Hometown Born in Liverpool and raised in Cheshire.

Burnham has vowed to unite the Labour Party and the country, if he is voted as leader. Pledging to ignore ideological factions within the Labour Party, he aims to provide a voice for all voters, whether they are working or middle-class voters, or small business owners. “Our challenge,” he said, “is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour.”

Past form Burnham’s government experience peaked when he was as health secretary under Gordon Brown, following stints as culture secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury. A key figure in organising the Hillsborough Independent Panel – which has led to a new inquest into the disaster – Burnham also helped to drive the NHS to the forefront of Labour’s election campaign, calling for the repeal of Coalition health reforms and avoiding privatisation. The only northerner in the running, Burnham is reportedly popular within the Party and is likely to gain trade union endorsement as he has the most left-wing views. However, his handling of the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal, where it was revealed that patients had experienced years of abuse and neglect from staff while he was health secretary, may have compromised faith in his leadership skills, while his ties with Gordon Brown’s government could put off Labour members seeking a clear break from the past.

Blairite or Brownite? Brownite

Interesting fact His nickname in Westminster is Andy “Bambi” Burnham, on account of his dark eyelashes and pronounced, feminine eyebrows.

Odds 5/2 (via oddschecker)


2. Yvette Cooper

Age 46

Constituency Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford

Position Shadow home secretary

Hometown Inverness, Scotland

Cooper has marketed herself as a fresh face for the Labour Party, as she seeks to steer it away from the past policies of the Blair and Brown governments. In particular, Cooper is championing the prosperity of ordinary British families. “We’ve got to have a much bolder vision for our future, much bigger ambitions for people in this country,” she said. “I don’t want to be the next leader of the Labour Party just because there’s a vacancy, I want to make life better for Britain’s families.”

Past form In 1997, Cooper became MP for the Labour safe seat of Pontefract and Castleford for the first time and steadily moved through the party’s ranks, becoming Gordon Brown's Treasury secretary as well as work and pensions minister. Tough on crime and security, she has produced several eye-catching Commons performances – most notably causing home secretary Theresa May to squirm over the issues of passport delays, border controls and extremism. However, Cooper came under fire from critics for the first time recently, when she denied on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that the previous Labour government spent too much in the run up to the 2008 crash. Like Burnham, her ties to the Brown establishment could prove restrictive to Cooper’s appeal. Doubts remain over whether she has the right personality to reach out to disenfranchised former Labour voters, and she is also likely to be forever associated with the politics of her husband, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

Blairite or Brownite? Neither. Cooper has said it is time to move beyond the Blair and Brown era. Interesting fact She has so far attracted the largest single bet of the contest – a £2,000 wager with William Hill.

Odds 9/2


3. Mary Creagh

Age 47

Constituency Wakefield

Position Shadow secretary of state for international development

Hometown Coventry

The economy is at the heart of Creagh’s campaign for the leadership. She argues that Labour’s failures centred on its inability to represent itself as trustworthy guardians of British jobs and industry. Creagh said: “Our campaign message focused almost exclusively on the NHS, an emotive issue for many of us, but in the end, not people's main motivation for voting. People trust Labour to look after their schools, hospitals and council services. But they simply do not trust us to run the economy and make them better off. That must change.”

Past form Following a decade working with small firms at an enterprise agency and teaching entrepreneurship at the Cranfield School of Management in Bedfordshire, Craegh joined parliament in 2005 as the MP for Wakefield, gaining experience in government as a chief whip in 2009. Her most notable roles have been shadow transport secretary and shadow environment secretary. Comfortable with the media, Creagh has also been active in applying pressure on the government over the selloff of forests, as well as the horsemeat scandal. Her position as pro-business could be an attractive proposition for members, given the animosity publicly displayed by some of the UK’s leading business chiefs towards Miliband. However, Creagh is not as high profile as her competitors, and has so far failed to carve out a strong following with the Party. Sky's Chief Political Correspondent Jon Craig noted that Creagh was “shabbily demoted” by Mr Miliband a year ago, and will be viewed as an “outsider” in the contest.

Blairite or Brownite? Blairite.

Interesting fact Creagh has a son, Clement (named after the former Labour prime minister Clement Attlee) and a daughter, Beatrice, named after veteran socialist campaigner Beatrice Webb.

Odds 28/1


4. Liz Kendall

Age 43

Constituency Leicester West

Position Shadow minister for care and older people

Hometown Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire

If Kendall were to be Labour’s next leader, she would seek to bring back middle-class voters. Believing the Party must represent ambition and success as well as hard work, Kendall told the Sunday Times: “We need to show people that we understand their aspirations and ambitions for the future, and if you look right across England, we did not do enough to appeal to Conservative supporters, and we must.”

Past form Before she became MP for Leicester West in 2010, Kendall led the the Ambulance Service Network and Maternity Alliance charity, following stints as a researcher for the King’s Fund and as director of health, social care and early years at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank. Kendall has also been a special adviser to two Cabinet members, Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman. Gutsy and driven, Kendall was unafraid to be first out of the blocks to announce her desire to succeed Ed Miliband. As a young, female and relatively new MP, she could provide the clean break Labour needs to re-energise voters. However, her lack of political experience compared to other candidates is likely to work against her. Five years too early, perhaps?

Blairite or Brownite? Blairite

Interesting fact An avid fan of rap music, Kendall cites Dr Dre as her favourite artist in the field.

Odds 15/2


5. Owen Smith

Age 45

Constituency Pontypridd

Position Shadow Welsh secretary

Hometown Morecambe

Although Smith is considered to be among the leftists of the Party, he blamed the failure to convince voters that a Labour government could be “trusted with the economy” as a major failing of the election campaign. However, he denied accusations that the Party hadn’t offered incentives for middle-income voters, citing pledges over child benefit and tuition fees.

Past form Two decades after joining the party as a teenager, Smith was elected MP for Pontypridd in 2010 and became shadow Welsh secretary in 2012. Widely viewed as a rising star of the Labour left, but with his own take, Smith would represent a complete break from previous Blair and Brown governments. Crucially, he managed to keep his seat in Wales, where Labour wasn’t very successful. However, his low public profile in England and Scotland could scupper his chances, and as such he is likely to remain an outside bet.

Blairite or Brownite Neither.

Interesting Fact Smith worked as a radio producer for 10 years, putting together a variety of programmes including Today for BBC Radio Four.

Odds 50/1

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