Nine voices in Stevenage – today at the hustings

400I got to Stevenage early enough to bag a seat in the front row. This vantage point gave me an excellent opportunity to assess all nine contenders for the two leadership roles.

The candidates for the role of Leader of the Labour Party started proceedings. Jeremy Corbyn was first to speak, followed by (in order) Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, and Andy Burnham.

I must say it was well conducted, and I do not recognise the description of the event that is on LabourList. Of course there was an occasional comment from the audience, but nothing that remotely resembled heckling. Maybe my twenty-plus years as a football referee has given me a thick skin, but maybe the anonymous reporter is trying to create a story from nothing.

The ten questions from the audience covered such varied topics as housing, class sizes, Islamophobia, Labour’s economic record, the candidate’s leadership credentials, welfare cuts, policies that have broad-based appeal, Trident, the EU, and Labour’s disconnection from the working classes.

Yvette just shaded it, she was the most polished. However, she is the continuity candidate and will get my second preference vote. Liz embraces change, and further convinced me that she is our best hope. Andy did better than in the midweek Newsnight hustings, as did Jeremy. Both will appeal to those who want to move the party leftwards.
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Stella Creasy kicked off the deputy leadership hustings, and she was followed by Tom Watson, then Ben Bradshaw, Caroline Flint, and finally Angela Eagle.

Their grilling covered the following topics: what is the role of the deputy, how do we engage with the young, party funding, proportional representation, how to help CLPs campaign more effectively, income tax rates, and bank regulation.

Ben was assured and passionate – a very solid performance. I have been supporting Caroline, but Ben is making me have a rethink. Caroline was good, and has a good national profile; I just wish she liked proportional representation. Stella leapt in my estimation and has also given me something to chew over. Tom was full of humour, but I have to say I do not think he will have broad appeal amongst voters. Angela had the best closing speech, but was unconvincing on some of the questions.

Eight of the nine on show were very good indeed, and you could imagine any combination of leader/deputy being up to the job. Jeremy Corbyn, who I am sure will stake a claim for a bigger role following these elections, just will not cut it as leader. I am sure my left-wing friends will bring down howls of derision for my saying this, but if you really think he can lead us to victory in 2020 then you clearly have not knocked on enough doors.

I conducted a rough straw poll amongst the many PPCs from May who were present in Stevenage today. Liz Kendall was a clear winner. As for the deputy it was more of a mixed picture with Ben, Caroline and Stella all scoring well.

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