Friday 28 May 2010 | Labour feed


Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott join Labour leadership race

Former health secretary Andy Burnham and backbencher Diane Abbott have joined the race for the Labour leadership.


Six candidates have now put themselves forward for the contest, which will conclude at the end of September

Mr Burnham announced his decision late last night, promising to put an end to ''stage managed'' politics run by ''elites''.

In an unexpected development, Miss Abbott, the MP for Stoke Newington who was the first black women ever elected to Parliament, told BBC Radio 4 that she would also put herself forward.

"I'm going to run. So many people in the past 48 hours have asked me to put my hat in the ring and I'm going to do so," she said, emphasising the importance of having the broadest possible spectrum of candidates.

Yesterday ex-children's secretary Ed Balls and left-winger John McDonnell confirmed that they would be contenders.

David Miliband and his brother Ed - the former foreign and energy secretaries - announced last week that they would be running.

Mr Burnham insisted he could be a ''unifying'' force for the party, suggesting that - unlike most of his rivals - he had never taken sides in the Blair-Brown infighting.

''I am a team-player; I've never had time for factions,'' he wrote.

''That's why I can help make Labour welcoming and unifying, a voice for all people who want to get on in life but also want to live in a country fair to all - with a more even spread of health, wealth and life chances.''

The Leigh MP said Labour had to ''open up to more people''. ''We must become a new kind of Party that involves and consults its members on a daily basis - truly a People's Party - and reduces the influence of small elites at the top,'' he insisted.

''We should bring down the final curtain on the era of stage-management in politics, making our party conference a forum for real debate and drama once again.''

He said Labour had to ''bring back those people who have lost faith with us''.

"I believe I can reach them,'' Mr Burnham went on. ''That is why I am today asking for the support of my colleagues to go forward as a candidate to lead the party I love and have served for 25 years.''

Earlier Mr Balls, one of Gordon Brown's closest political allies, said the former leader had wished him luck but would not be supporting any candidate.

''Gordon should stand completely neutral in this and I am sure he will,'' he said - disclosing that he told him at the weekend he would be standing.

''He said: 'good luck, go for it'.''

Launching his campaign at a Sure Start centre in Nottingham, Mr Balls conceded that Labour had failed to communicate its message properly to voters - especially on immigration.

And he said he wanted to spend some time listening to what the public wanted from Labour before formulating his pitch to the party for the leadership.

''It's really important that we don't just talk to ourselves. We have got to hear what the public have got to say.

''We have to listen first and hear what the public have to say. It's important that we are a campaigning party but also a listening party.''

He dismissed suggestions that his slim parliamentary majority - he won Morley and Outwood by 1,101 - made him unsuitable to be party leader.

He said his aim was a new Labour government - which would only be achieved by winning back seats and increasing majorities such as his.

And he suggested his own battle to hold off a well-funded Tory push to snatch the seat would stand him in good stead for leading a ''tough and decisive'' opposition to the Lib/Con coalition.

Mr Balls refused to join criticism of the timetable for the election - which gives hopefuls only until next Thursday to collect the required 33 nominations from MPs.

But Mr McDonnell - who confirmed his bid at the annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union in Brighton - dismissed it as a ''stitch up''.

The backbencher tried in vain to get himself on the ballot paper to force a contest when Mr Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007 and said it would be ''really difficult'' for him again.

''I do not know what problem New Labour has with democracy,'' he said - suggesting the party would end up with a choice between ''the sons of Blair and the son of Brown''.

''There's a whole range of people in the Labour Party that needs to be heard.''

While the nominations close next week - Labour's ruling national executive committee (NEC) announced yesterday that the contest itself would be lengthy.

Under the NEC timetable, leadership hustings will take place during June and July. Balloting will begin on August 16 and run through to September 22.

The outcome - through Labour's system of electoral colleges comprising MPs, party members and the trade unions - will be announced at the start of the party's annual conference three days later.

Meanwhile, David Miliband announced that former Cabinet colleagues Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander would be chairing his campaign.

And he also received backing from former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth.

''I have not been particularly close to David in the past but having worked with him as defence secretary I have been hugely impressed,'' Mr Ainsworth told the Press Association.

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