Tom Watson has beaten us to the Westminster rumour mill’s full spin on Hilary Benn this week.
The Blairite die-hards seem to have concluded that they need a “next generation” torch bearer. They have dispensed with John Hutton, the shortest lived and most laughable of the mooted challengers, and are pushing Benn. A key minister, who has previously been entrusted to manage party matters by Blair, has been set to the task of canvassing the PLP for Benn.
The Daily’s Westminster sources remain unclear on whether Benn’s backers are ultimately thinking of the leadership or the deputy (or even standing in both) but Benn will be able to get the ball rolling without making a final decision on this for some time.
If he baulks at taking on Brown and goes for the consolation deputy spot instead, then that race becomes much more unpredictable. But if anything is certain, it is that Peter Hain’s orange hue will be turning white with fear at the prospect. Already losing support from the unions to Jon Cruddas, he would suddenly find himself crushed from the right by Benn. Suddenly he would be back at square one, struggling to get 44 nominations.
Benn is a likeable, if a slightly other-worldly, character and has been a reasonably competent minister at DfID. But suspicions remain that he has deliberately avoided tougher jobs and kept his views on other policy questions quiet – a strategy that can’t really last the course if he seeks to hold together an impossibly big tent through the campaign.
His backers may also be over-estimating his union support, even with the No 10 fixers on board – something which may actually hinder rather than help. As a former senior official in the old MSF, it will be a serious blow if he cannot even secure backing from Amicus.