Labour leadership: Candidates’ differences become clearer

Distance between the candidates for the Labour leadership is beginning to open up on a range of issues as the they seek to differentiate themselves from one another.

Distance between the candidates for the Labour leadership is beginning to open up on a range of issues as the they seek to differentiate themselves from one another.

On the economy, David Miliband has stuck to the manifesto pledge to halve the deficit in four years, while Ed Balls has now said that this would be going too far too fast. Andy Burnham’s distinctive pitch, meanwhile, is to say that the health budget should be frozen in real terms, reducing the pressure on other areas of public spending.

In a series of BBC interviews the candidates have also been stressing how their backgrounds have shaped their characters and politics.

While all the candidates except Diane Abbott came into politics as special advisers, Burnham talks up his ordinary background in contrast to the “London chattering classes” – a reference to the Milibands.

At the ‘Hustings of Ideas’ event run by Demos this week Hazel Blears claimed that the fact that Burnham lives in his constituency makes him more in touch with people’s everyday concerns. He is also running his leadership bid from Manchester, rather than Westminster.

Abbott claims that her lack of ministerial experience during the New Labour years is an asset, proving her credentials as a true Labour politician, in touch with the grassroots and the country. Speaking on her behalf at the Demos event Kelvin Hopkins described her pitch as in the democratic socialist tradition, entailing greater redistribution, using macroeconomic policy to deliver full employment, and a greater role for local authorities in delivering housing.

Ed Miliband is increasingly framing his leadership bid in terms of a vision for the what the country should look like that will appeal to voters at the next election. This consists of greater equality of wealth, income and power; a new political economy to deliver well-paid sustainable jobs; and a political offer which extends beyond individual financial prosperity, to include family-friendly policies and improved quality of the environment.

As the candidates attempt to focus on the future, they have all faced questions about their roles in the Blair/Brown years.

David Miliband, struggling to shake off the Blairite label, criticises Brown’s decision to abolish the 10p tax band, which was announced to cabinet the morning of the Budget, confirming the lack of collegiality when Brown was Chancellor.

Both Ed Balls and Ed Miliband worked for Brown for many years, but while Miliband is seen as a unifying figure across the party, Balls has a reputation for more a bullish style of politics. His supporters cite this as a strength; Kerry McCarthy argued at Demos that his toughness and decisiveness mean he gets things done, and Ken Livingstone has similarly put the case that Balls was successful in pushing through change in Whitehall.

His bid has drawn heavily on his time as education secretary, citing a passion for life chances and an awareness of bread-and-butter issues – Balls has even described himself as provincial.

Burnham speaks of his loyalty to both Blair and Brown, though again highlights his outsider status, having been in neither inner circle. Much to the media’s disappointment the fraternal element of the contest has remained just that, with both Milibands setting out their case rather than criticising each other.

David, who speaks of himself as a credible prime minister, said that is was better to have an open contest rather than seething resentment. Ed has said that the brothers are not clones, and talks about how his values would always determine his policies, as they did in the early years of the Labour government.

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