It seems to have been discussed endlessly, but the identity of Gordon Brown's successor as Labour leader is no clearer than when the subject first started being seriously discussed in 2008. An array of different bookies quote prices on this market, with some coming in and dropping out from time to time. As at the date of writing, you can get prices from Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Sporting Index, Stan James, Victor Chandler and William Hill. Prices vary dramatically. By buying Peter Mandelson on Sporting Index, you can get effective odds of 24/1. By way of contrast, you would get a measly 8/1 with Ladbrokes. It pays to shop around.
Best prices last night were as follows:
David Miliband 3/1 (Paddy Power, Stan James)
Ed Miliband 11/2 (Stan James)
Alan Johnson 43/7 (Sporting Index)
Harriet Harman 12/1 (Stan James)
James Purnell 14/1 (William Hill)
Jon Cruddas 20/1 (Stan James)
Peter Mandelson 24/1 (Sporting Index)
Ed Balls 25/1 (Coral)
Andy Burnham 25/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Victor Chandler, William Hill)
Jack Straw 25/1 (Stan James)
Alistair Darling 28/1 (Paddy Power)
John Denham 33/1 (Stan James)
John McFall 40/1 (Paddy Power)
Hilary Benn 49/1 (Sporting Index)
Yvette Cooper 49/1 (Sporting Index)
Jim Murphy 50/1 (Ladbrokes)
Shaun Woodward 50/1 (Ladbrokes, William Hill)
Douglas Alexander 66/1 (Ladbrokes)
Ben Bradshaw 66/1 (William Hill)
Liam Byrne 66/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power)
Peter Hain 66/1 (Ladbrokes)
John McDonnell 66/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Victor Chandler, William Hill)
Diane Abbott 80/1 (Paddy Power)
Tony Blair 100/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, William Hill)
Hazel Blears 100/1 (Ladbrokes, Victor Chandler)
Charles Clarke 100/1 (Ladbrokes, Victor Chandler, William Hill)
Parmjit Dhanda 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
Frank Field 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
Caroline Flint 100/1 (Ladbrokes, William Hill)
Geoff Hoon 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
John Hutton 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
Tessa Jowell 100/1 (Ladbrokes, Victor Chandler)
Alan Milburn 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
John Reid 100/1 (Ladbrokes)
Bob Ainsworth 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Des Browne 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Ruth Kelly 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Ken Livingstone 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Jacqui Smith 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Sir Alan Sugar 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Stephen Twigg 200/1 (Ladbrokes)
Cherie Blair 500/1 (Ladbrokes)
Alastair Campbell 500/1 (Ladbrokes)
Joanna Lumley 500/1 (Stan James)
Esther Rantzen 500/1 (Stan James)
Nick Palmer 500/1 (Ladbrokes)
Kitty Ussher 500/1 (Ladbrokes)
The field is amazingly open. You could back every candidate in order of lengthening odds up to Hilary Benn and provided you'd weighted the stakes right and hadn't lost out to a long shot, you would still turn a profit. This has to be a market which interests the gambler, the more so because many names can be eliminated quite quickly from consideration. At least one of the named candidates is not a member of the Labour party.
The first thing that we must do is identify who is a possible candidate. Gordon Brown has already stated that he will serve a full term (but no more) as Prime Minister if re-elected, so the next Labour leader will presumably be a Labour MP in the 2010/15 Parliament come what may - this is, I understand, a requirement of the Labour party rule book. No fewer than 13 of the named candidates are not standing as an MP at the next election. While they could of course stand at a later by-election, it seems reasonably safe to me to ignore all of these candidates. The most prominent faller at this first fence is Lord Mandelson.
A tricky fence follows shortly after. Even if a candidate is standing, he or she might not be returned at the general election. Several named candidates have problems on this front. Among the shorter-priced candidates, Jon Cruddas, Ed Balls, Jack Straw and Alistair Darling have non-trivial jobs getting re-elected. If Labour are badly defeated, maybe as many of three of these could fall at this fence. If Labour lose less badly, most or all will survive. You will have to form your own assessment of each of their chances.
Next, we must identify who actually might want the job. If, as I do, you assume that Labour will be in opposition in the next Parliament, this will exclude more people than is immediately obvious. Being leader of the Opposition is a tough job. It doesn't have that much immediate power, only potential power. Many tired ministers might feel that they would rather retire to quieter, better paid work.
Each of us will form our own assessment of who has the appetite for the job. For myself, I doubt whether Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman, Jack Straw or Alistair Darling are that interested. They will probably feel that they have done their bit. Each might quite have fancied being Prime Minister, but that's a very different proposition. In the case of Alan Johnson, I'm not even sure that he ever wanted that job.
Then we must see who has the backing to justify a run. Most MPs fancy themselves as party leaders in the abstract, but they need to gather enough support to justify a run and not humiliate themselves. If available, the following will stand: David Miliband, Ed Balls and John McDonnell. Jon Cruddas has been giving recent smoke signals that he proposes to stand also, if the Sundays are to be believed.
Mr Smithson has often noted how the Labour party rulebook favours a woman candidate. I have suggested above that Harriet Harman probably doesn't want the job, but if I am wrong about this, she will certainly be able to get in the race. We should work on the assumption that there will be a woman candidate, and if it is not to be Harriet Harman, the question is: who? Leaving out those who are standing down and those who are bookies' jokes, the possibilities appear to be Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint and Tessa Jowell. It is inconceivable that Yvette Cooper would stand against her husband, but if he were defeated at constituency level, she would suddenly look a real contender. Betting on her Labour leadership chances on Sporting Index may be a good proxy bet against her husband's constituency chances. Caroline Flint looks a bit too lightweight, but Tessa Jowell is a long-serving Cabinet minister. Those odds of 100/1 look very attractive. Again, would she want the job?
Ed Miliband could also undoubtedly muster the support to stand, but there is a unique question in relation to him: would he stand against his brother? As an entirely personal observation, I regard Ed as a much better possible leader than David. But we should not be looking at abstract preferences, rather at concrete realities. Ed and David would be fishing in the same voting pool to a considerable extent. The brothers seem genuinely close. Could their family relationships survive a contest against each other for the crown? They are already the two frontrunners in the bookies' eyes - how would Ed argue that he would be better than David? How would David suggest that he rather than Ed would have the right answers for Labour? I do not think that the prices accurately reflect this obstacle. While I rate Ed Miliband highly among the possible contenders, I regard it as a relatively low probability that he will stand at all this time.
Three candidates are telegenic and often mentioned: James Purnell, Andy Burnham and Hilary Benn. I discount both of the last two. Neither is prominent enough. In the case of Hilary Benn, he stumbled badly in the deputy leadership contest in 2007. James Purnell is a better possibility. In the aftermath of defeat, might he look like a man of vision? The question to ask there is whether his fans would prefer to support him or David Miliband. Despite his vacillation, I expect David Miliband to remain the torchbearer of the party right.
I hope that this has been helpful in allowing you to form your own views about who the runners and riders will be. It is only once you have it clear in your own mind who might be standing that you can decide where the value for winners might lie.
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