Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is the Labour Deputy Leadership worth a pitcher of warm piss?

Antonia has declared her support for Jon Cruddas as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. But why is this the contested post?

A good Daily Telegraph editorial on Saturday noticed that the last time a Labour Prime Minister announced he was retiring in government, no less than five candidates had declared to succeed him within a few hours. And these were not lightweights - they included the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Employment Secretary, the Energy Secretary and the Environment Secretary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer soon threw his hat into the ring.

By contrast it is now two months since Tony Blair was forced to concede a timetable and there is only one candidate for the leadership. Meanwhile the Deputy Leadership race is getting crowded. But just what does a Deputy Leader actually do?

I'm reminded of the way that the Vice President of the United States is traditionally one of the most maligned positions in any democracy. Just think for a moment as to how many Vice Presidents you can name. I bet very few of them did not go on to become President.

Who can remember the Vice President who remarked that the post was "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived"? Well he was quite famous but for other things - he was John Adams. Or the one who said "Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." He was not so famous at all - Thomas R. Marshall. (He also said "Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state." He was probably wrong - New York has produced no less than ten - though Indiana, which ties with Massachusetts for second place with four apiece, did go on to produce Dan Quayle.)

And then there's the one who called the job "not worth a bucket of warm piss". Otherwise the only thing John Nance Garner is notable for is living to just 15 days short of his 99th birthday - the record for any President or Vice President.

The office only really gained some significance under Richard Nixon, who had the benefit of both media attention and a President who wished to stand above partisan debate. Even then the post has risen and fallen - George H. W. Bush seemed to spend most of his time going to funerals and other dull diplomatic tasks.

What precise role does the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party serve? Gordon Brown does not hold the position, nor did Tony Blair. Indeed I can think of only two Deputies who became leader - Clement Attlee (and this was only because when George Lansbury insisted on resigning despite unanimous please by MPs for him to stay, most sitting Labour MPs believed Arthur Greenwood was unsuitable and Attlee was about the only viable person about) and Michael Foot (hardly a leadership career to aspire to repeat).

And so we're left with a situation where Gordon Brown looks set to take the real position all but uncontested (maybe a token challenge to force a ballot but that's about it) whilst numerous Labour politicians fall over the Deputy Leadership. Is it worth it?

1 comment:

Paul Burgin said...

Bear in mind that circumstances also dictate the Deputy leader's career. For example if Roy Jenkins had not been so rebellious in the early 1970s (although I do think if I were a Labour MP I would have been one of the 69 rebels on that fateful night) and not put people's backs up with his slightly superior style, the leadership may well have been his for the taking in 1976!


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