29 May 2015

What do Labour’s leadership candidates stand for?

Three of the four candidates to lead Labour are speaking today ahead of the 15 June closing date for nominations. We look at the pitches of Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh.

Andy Burnham

Of the four declared candidates for the Labour party leadership, Andy Burnham (pictured below) is one of only two to have held government office (the other is Yvette Cooper). He held three cabinet positions during Gordon Brown’s 2007-10 premiership: chief secretary to the Treasury, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and health secretary.

On the Labour party website, Burnham says he won a place at Cambridge “thanks to his own determination and the support of his parents”. He says he wants his party to “speak for everyone and for the whole country” and address voters’ aspirations as it did in 1997.

For the past five years Burnham has been a prominent opponent of NHS privatisation in his role as shadow health secretary. He won widespread praise as culture secretary for his role in securing the re-opening of the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster.

However, he continues to face questions about his time as Labour health secretary; he was in that role in the aftermath of the Mid Staffs hospital scandal. While he announced an independent inquiry into poor care in 2009, he was subsequently criticized for not going further – it was the Coalition who announced that there would be a full public inquiry the following year.

Andy Burnham’s supporters include Lord Prescott and shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves. Although he came fourth out of five in the last Labour leadership contest in 2010, the MP for Leigh is favourite to win this contest – Paddy Power is offering even odds on a Burnham victory.

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall was elected to the Commons in 2010, so has no experience in government. Before becoming an MP, she worked as a special adviser to Harriet Harman and then Patricia Hewitt. She has been shadow health minister since 2011, with particular responsibility for care and older people.

The well-being of the NHS is central to Labour, and Kendall has declared that “what works” should be the priority for the health service – in this respect she has distinguished herself from Andy Burnham and his determined opposition to privatisation. In a recent profile on BBC Radio 4, John Rentoul of the Independent newspaper described her as “quite strikingly Blairite”.

Kendall has also called for the party to reach out to the aspirational middle classes, and insisted that the trade unions should not be allowed to determine the outcome of the leadership contest.

Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, both shadow Labour ministers and both previously tipped as possible contenders for the Labour top job, are backing Kendall, as is Margaret Hodge, the high-profile chair of the public accounts committee.

Liz Kendall (Getty Images)

Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper was shadow home secretary throughout most of the 2010-15 coalition government, having replaced husband Ed Balls when he moved over to become shadow chancellor. Under Gordon Brown’s Labour administration, she succeeded Andy Burnham as chief secretary to the Treasury and then became work and pensions secretary.

Some have suggested that her husband’s failure to retain his seat in the May election removed one potential obstacle to her standing for the party leadership. Yvette Cooper appears to have been keen to shed any association with the Labour party’s recent failures, rejecting calls to “go back to the remedies of the past” that worked for Tony Blair.

But like Andy Burnham, she rose to political prominence under Blair and Gordon Brown. She has talked about the need for her party to be “credible, compassionate, creative and connected to the day-to-day realities of life”. Former Labour Treasury minister Liam Byrne and Chris Bryant, the shadow culture secretary, are supporting her candidacy. Paddy Power places her third in the betting, with odds of 5-1.

Yvette Cooper (Getty Images)

Mary Creagh

First elected as MP for Wakefield in 2005, Mary Creagh served in all of Ed Miliband‘s shadow cabinets, making prominent interventions in the horsemeat scandal while shadowing environment, food and rural affairs.

During a spell as shadow transport secretary, she was a staunch supporter of the HS2 rail link even while the party leadership appeared to be wavering on the issue. In what some saw as a demotion, she was moved to shadowing international development last November.

Launching her challenge, Ms Creagh said Labour had “forgotten” what had won it three elections on the bounce under Mr Blair, adding: “Labour didn’t just lose middle England last week – we lost Scotland and our industrial heartlands as well.”

Labour former leader Neil Kinnock’s son Stephen is among her supporters but Ms Creagh will need to make significant headway over the coming weeks if she is to secure the nominations needed to stay in the race. Paddy Power currently rates her chances of winning at 25-1.

Mary Creagh (Reuters)