"The principled candidate deserves our support over the pack of panderers"
The Times editorial today is - almost - a perfect analysis of the Labour Deputy Leadership contest and a spot on recommendation to those people who haven't voted yet.
It marks Hazel Blears down as a winner from this process in terms of her status as a serious front rank politician who has put her principles first, even if she does not win this election.
I've said "almost" because I disagree with the Times' critique of the electoral college delivering "undue influence to trade unions" - in fact the electoral college delivers "due influence" to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Labour voters who happen to be trade unionists.
Here it is in full:
"Hazel Blears is the principled choice for the Labour deputy leadership
It has been said of sausages that it is best not to think too much about how they are made. The same is true for the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party. The contest has not been an edifying spectacle for several reasons. It is not obvious that the position is required at all. Even the candidates cannot agree on what they believe the portfolio will, in practice, be about. The victor will emerge via an electoral college which is complex and awards an undue influence to trade unions. David Cameron sought to embarrass Tony Blair about this at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday (although Mr Blair subsequently hit back at him with a ferocity that bordered on the feral).
Yet the ballot papers have been printed and a choice has to be made. Some of the candidates can be dismissed almost out of hand while others merit more substantial consideration. Peter Hain and Harriet Harman have spent the campaign wooing the trade union barons, distancing themselves from policies to which they have been bound by collective responsibility and courting the most unreconstructed parts of the electorate. Labour would take a large step backwards if it rewarded this behaviour by embracing them. Jon Cruddas has proved to be a more rounded character than these politicians and run an imaginative campaign but has again been unwilling to tell public sector trade unions the hard truths.
Three rational runners are thus left in this race. The soft choice for Labour would be Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary. He is the front-runner according to most assessments. He has acquired that advantage for reasons which are not impressive. His surname is an asset to him due to the surreal development that his father has morphed in the past 25 years from national terror to national treasure. That he almost destroyed the Labour Party has been forgotten. Mr Benn II is the more moderate but being amiable and unobjectionable are not virtues of such a magnitude that they qualify a man to be deputy leader of a party. Labour would not do itself any harm by selecting Mr Benn but it would not do itself that much good either.
A more interesting choice would be Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary. He is an engaging individual with an astute reading of politics. He has not appeased the unions in the course of the hustings, perhaps because as an ex-trade union leader himself he appreciates the futility of that strategy. In terms of personality and style he would be an effective counterbalance to Gordon Brown and that would benefit both of them.
Mr Johnson can, though, bounce about the political spectrum according to issue and, it seems, the day of the week. To describe him as a “Blairite” would be inaccurate. The principled choice is not Mr Johnson but Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairman. She has been consistent and candid in the course of the past few weeks and has defended the Prime Minister on matters where the Labour Party is, mistakenly, too suspicious of him. Were she to win it would send the most forceful signal that new Labour will survive the transition from Mr Blair to Mr Brown. It is in the interests of the incoming Prime Minister that this message does come across loud and clear.
Yet if the bookmakers are correct that will certainly not happen. But no matter how many or how few votes she secures, Ms Blears should be at the top table of a Brown government. Those who back her should offer their second preferences to Mr Johnson. The principled candidate deserves our support over the pack of panderers."