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Mick Temple's Blog



What do you mean, you didn't stay up specially to watch the deputy Labour leadership debate on Newsnight? Tut, tut. Luckily for you, Mick Temple is a prof of politics at Staffordshire University, so he gets paid to do it. And don't worry - his report is more entertaining than the event.

Well, someone had to do it. The Stirrer’s audience deserves dedication to duty, so I watched Newsnight’s ‘Big Debate’, where the six candidates for Labour’s deputy leadership were rather gently interrogated by the Sultan of Smug.

Paxman was in sneeringly superior University Challenge mode rather than full-out rotweiller attack mode. I managed to stay awake long enough to bring you this report.

Hilary Benn has already gained the support of twice as many constituency parties as his nearest rival, Alan Johnson. But it’s the individual votes of members that will count, so theoretically any of the candidates is still in with a chance. Well, all apart from Peter Hain.

I had to look twice. He looked so out-of-place and disconcerted that my first impression was that a 1980s Tory cabinet minister had unexpectedly materialised 20 years into the future. Peter Hain reminds me of the pigs in Animal Farm: a former liberal activist turned capitalist farmer, standing on two legs but clearly unused to having to think on his unsteady feet. He was deeply unimpressive.

Similarly, Jon Cruddas. Would you buy a used political ideology from this man? He resembled a reined-in, dime store Derek Hatton. But he looked more confident than the clearly nervous Harriet Harman, who nonetheless came across better than I expected, but then I wasn’t expecting much.

Hazel Blears was her usual tediously chirpy self - is she never ‘off’? Her website tells us all we need to know about her as she is fast becoming Labour’s answer to Teresa Gorman - although what the question might be has never bothered Hazel’s over-rehearsed soundbites.

Blears does at least mention the ‘S’ word on her campaign manifesto, but it took Hilary Benn to dare to raise it during the debate. This willingness to mention socialism might explain his lead among Labour activists, who, like their Conservative counterparts, are far more committed to ‘outdated shibboleths’ than their leaders.

But Benn reminded me of one of those politicians who is ‘occupied’ by aliens in any episode of Dr Who - they talk, but some human element seems to be lacking. Empathy, perhaps.

Lastly, Alan Johnson. We know he’s capable, we know he’s bright - but if he’s so bright why does he want this thankless job? However, Johnson is one of the few politicians whose background gives him some grounding in workaday reality (yes, we know Hazel, that you rose ‘from Salford semi to the Cabinet table’). He gave his usual competent performance but seemed uninspired by the occasion or the format.

Paxman strained at his leash, but metaphorically muzzled by the need for some sort of fairness he failed to really challenge this bunch of Iraq War supporters.

Who won? Well, outside of the Labour party and us political junkies, does anyone care?

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