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     Hain outlines deputy ambitions  <<back  next>>

The race to become the next Labour Party deputy leader has stepped up with Peter Hain becoming the latest candidate to throw his hat into the ring.

The Northern Ireland and Wales secretary said he wants to restore the "shattered progressive coalition" of voters that brought Labour to power in 1997.

He did not formally launch his bid, as there is as yet no vacancy, but tried to explain what he could bring to the job.

Outlining four policy priorities, Hain said he wants to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor; devolve power to achieve a "better balance" between state, individual and local government; press for electoral reform of the Commons and an elected second chamber; and focus on green issues, with a "massive commitment to renewables".

Current deputy John Prescott is expected to step down at the same time as Tony Blair, now known to be within a year.

And leading Labour figures are using the current conference season to set out their platforms.

Hain made his deputy leadership ambitions public at the TUC conference in Brighton on Tuesday.

"I can confirm that I do intend to stand for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party when that contest happens next year," he told a Fabian Society fringe meeting.

"I intend to tirelessly devote the next few weeks to complete the process of restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland, which I believe will then be Tony Blair's proudest achievement."

And he pledged full support for Gordon Brown's leadership bid and likely premiership.

"I believe line one of the job description of the deputy leader is loyalty and I am proud to have been a loyal member of Tony Blair's cabinet even through very difficult times," he said.

"I will be equally loyal to Gordon Brown who is the other towering figure of our government and although he has welcomed a contest, as do I, I believe no-one could or should beat Gordon.

"I take no-one's support for granted - not unions, members or MPs - although all have encouraged me to run.

"I believe I can bind back together the government with the party.

"I have long argued for a better way of agreeing policy - not just handing down decisions from upon high - and generating genuine two-way dialogue between the leadership and the wider party.

"And secondly, I believe I can support Gordon in the task of reuniting the shattered progressive coalition that Tony and Gordon successfully brought together in 1997."

While he has a reputation as a left-winger within the cabinet, Hain is set to focus his campaign on winning back middle-class votes for the party.

"Whole groups of people have lost faith with us, and we need to reconnect with them," he has said.

"The leadership and deputy leadership elections could be a way of doing that. We will not win the next election unless we do this."

Meanwhile the current favourite, former union general secretary Alan Johnson, has used an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper to say that unions must put "narrow self-interest aside" if they are to survive.

"Progressive unions pursue what is right, not what might appeal to a small number of vocal activists," the education secretary said.

"They recognise that the employer's problem is the union's problem and vice versa."

Hain has implicitly criticised Johnson for making public his own ambition to replace Prescott at a time when the deputy prime minister was in the middle of a media firestorm.

"This question arose at a time when John Prescott was at his very lowest, and I thought it very disloyal to be trying to grab his job," he told the Independent on Sunday.

"At the time when others were declaring, we had no idea of how far off a contest would be. I felt it highly premature and disloyal."

And he has warned his rival against running a "forlorn" race against Gordon Brown for the leadership as well as the number two position.

"Whoever is our next deputy leader should be someone who doesn't have one eye on the top job," Hain said.

"We don't need another period of mistrust and division at the top of the party."

Other candidates are likely to include constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman and leader of the House Jack Straw.

12 September 2006

 Last updated: 13/09/2006 09:54:00

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