A guide to the Labour Leadership: Blair, Brown, and baggage

Five contenders have emerged for the Labour leadership. Who are they and what do they stand for?

Yvette Cooper

Blair-o-Meter: 6

The most experienced candidate with strong respect in the party, but might lack a distinct appeal on policy.

In 2011, when rumblings and grumblings about Ed Miliband reached their pre-2015 height, Yvette Cooper looked like the party’s next leader. She had topped the Shadow Cabinet elections the year before and had Cabinet experience in the Treasury and DWP under Gordon Brown. Her status as a Brownite, however, is a liability. The Conservatives have successfully built the narrative that Labour overspent – something Cooper rejects – and caused the last economic crisis. Moreover, she was one of the leading members of Miliband’s failed and unpopular Labour frontbench.

That said, she will still enjoy strong support, and, with Chuka Umunna’s withdrawal, is the likely frontrunner. Her diagnosis that while many of Labour’s individual policies were popular, their overall platform ‘wasn’t enough to give [voters] hope and confidence we could match all their ambitions for the future’ has a reassuring ring to it. As an MP for a Yorkshire seat in which UKIP came second, she has also recognised the threat to Labour if it does not face up to widespread discontent among working-class voters in the Northern seats the party has taken for granted.


Andy Burnham

Blair-o-Meter: 4

The likely favourite now, although he is hard to pin down between McCluskey-style denunciations of NHS privatisation and accepting that the last Labour Government let the deficit get too high.

Andy Burnham’s leadership campaign is set to look very different from his bid in 2010. The Health Secretary under Gordon Brown, he took a pragmatic, relatively modernising approach in 2001. But he will repeat his emphasis on his working-class, Northern background as a way to connect with voters disenchanted with a professionalised, middle-class (Milibandite?) Labour Party operation.

Under Ed Miliband, however, he became an attack dog. As Shadow Health Secretary, Burnham has hammered away the Conservatives for ‘privatising’ the NHS, for overseeing missed targets on waiting times, and for undermining staff morale. He has set himself up for a very traditional Labour campaign, emphasising the party’s commitment to public service against the Tories’ message on economic competence. Burnham is expected to enjoy the support of Unison, one of the most powerful unions in the country, which represents health sector workers.


Liz Kendall

Blair-o-Meter: 8

The leading ‘moderniser’ in the race after Umunna’s withdrawal, but will struggle to attract the same star appeal.

Liz Kendall is another member of the 2010 intake and former special adviser to Blairite Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. The MP for Leicester West, she was joined the Shadow front bench as a Shadow Health Minister in 2010. Kendall has said that the private and voluntary sector would still have a role in providing extra capacity for the NHS, and said ‘what matters is what works’ for the health service. By this, she seems to have staked her ground as a moderniser, in contrast to Burnham’s traditional stance. Kendall is also the only candidate so far to say that Labour was spending too much before the financial crash – a stick with which David Cameron has beaten the party for five years. Kendall has argued that Labour needs a ‘fundamentally new approach’ and must understand voters’ aspirations and ambitions – the basis for a strong challenge for the modernising vote. Given Chuka Umunna’s sudden withdrawal from the race, Kendall may now enjoy clearer support from the right wing of the party.


Mary Creagh

Blair-o-Meter: 8

A moderniser, but with a low profile publicly and within the party – the long shot.

Mary Creagh is the lowest-profile candidate of those to declare thus far, but given the disaster of Labour’s campaign and performance in opposition that may be no bad thing. She was elected  MP for Wakefield in 2005. Creagh did not hold ministerial roles under Blair or Brown, but was promoted to Shadow Environment Secretary under Ed Miliband. The ill-conceived plan to privatise forests gave her a victory over the Government, but she didn’t make a splash shadowing transport from 2013 to 2014, and international development since the autumn last year. Creagh’s call to win back trust on the economy, especially among middle-income and working class families, is not revolutionary, but she is well-spoken, even-tempered, and reasonable in her public appearances. A leadership bid, even if unsuccessful, will raise her profile, leaving her a stronger candidate for a prominent job in a future Shadow Cabinet. Not bad for summer’s worth of hustings.


Tristram Hunt

Blair-o-Meter: 7.

An uncontroversial candidate, but without a distinct constituency within the party upon which to base a successful bid.

Tristram Hunt, although not formally declared yet, is another 2010 intake –a recurrent theme, given that the performance of the last Government has been the main point of the Conservatives’ political message. Before he was elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Hunt was a university history lecturer, frequently appearing on television. He joined the front bench as an education minister in 2013, and became Shadow Education Secretary in 2013. Hunt focused on the issue of unqualified teachers to shape Labour’s attack on the Government, but once Nicky Morgan replaced Michael Gove, that line lost potency. There have been some whispers about Hunt’s command of the education brief, and his background as a privately-educated, not reliably funny former member of the Cambridge Footlights is not an asset. But he is articulate, a good television performer, and another person untainted by the Blair, Brown, and baggage.