According to Patrick Hennesey at the Sunday Telegraph, Downing Street played a “played a key strategic role” in Hilary Benn’s decision to stand for deputy. This fits in with several pieces of the jigsaw which may yet undermine Benn’s claim to be the unity candidate.
According to the Telegraph, Downing Street has now withdrawn its support from Alan Johnson – not hard to believe if you saw how they left Johnson out in the cold over faith schools. That means Benn will have access to the 50 or so hard core Blairite MPs – easily enough to take him over the 44 threshold.
What is just as interesting as Blair’s backing is the people involved in Benn’s campaign. Ian McCartney as campaign manager may look good at first site but the union leaderships view him as serially untrustworthy after his years as Blair’s party fixer. Benn’s apparent use of the Campaign Company will also raise serious questions, especially given reports that controversial ultra-Blairite David Evans is being lined up to direct the campaign.
Downing Street’s backing for Benn as the Blairite candidate leaves the right-wing section of the race seriously crowded. While Blairite runners (Benn, Straw, Johnson and according to today’s Observer Blears as well) are fighting for that turf, Hain, Harman and Cruddas are going for the arguably larger swathe of MPs on the centre and left.
Who ends up on the ballot is absolutely crucial to the strategies of the candidates – until the nominations are sorted out, there is all to play for. But The Daily now feels confident enough to predict that the following will make the ballot: Benn (representing the Blairite wing), Cruddas (representing the grassroots and the unions), and Harman (backed by a mix of female and southern MPs). At least one and maybe two of Hain, Straw and Blears will fall at the first hurdle.