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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Kinnock's tips for the top
Neil Kinnock
Kinnock says it is right to have a "gender balance"
Political reputations can be made - or broken - during the party conference season. So who are the names to watch out for this year?

We asked former Labour leader Neil Kinnock to pick his tips for the top for this year's gathering in Brighton.

There are some obvious Labour MPs who Mr Kinnock says he would have highlighted even before they got election.

"For a very few examples", he names: Trade Minister Douglas Alexander; Home Office Minister Hazel Blears; Yvette Cooper, a junior minister in John Prescott's department; David Miliband, the former Downing Street policy chief who is now schools minister; and Phil Woolas, who is deputy leader of the House of Commons.

But Mr Kinnock says some of the MPs whose "different, but pronounced, talents" have yet to get the recognition they justify are:

    Brennan "has leadership stuff", says Kinnock
  • Kevin Brennan, the new parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Alan Milburn: "Working class background, Oxbridge, very bright. A real street politician who is at home in a college dinner or a working men's club. Good musician, highly articulate in speech or writing and often funny. Common sense on legs. Has leadership stuff."

  • Louise Ellman: "Strong character, former brilliant leader of big, difficult Lancashire County Council. Very fluent on ideas and practicalities. Charming. Clear convictions and pragmatism that doesn't blunt her edge."

    Oona King
    Oona King is a "streetwise convincing advocate"

  • Barbara Follett, whose husband Ken is a bestselling novelist: "Despite contrary propaganda, very able, outstanding political networker, articulate, independent minded."

  • Ann Keen, PPS to Chancellor Gordon Brown: "Toughie. Former leader of a small nurses' union (small union, that is, not nurses). Politics in the bones. Convincing. Highly motivated. Remorseless organiser. Great sense of humour."

  • Oona King, PPS to Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt: "Bright, inventive, streetwise. Blasť conduct disguises thoughtfulness and good values. Convincing advocate."

  • Claire Ward, PPS to Health Minister John Hutton: "Politically old when she was 20 which wasn't long ago. Well organised. Dedicated able go-getter with strong convictions."

    John Mann
    John Mann worked for Labour managing union links

  • John Mann, who worked for several years at Labour headquarters before entering Parliament in 2001: "Another experienced and creative organiser. Wide and strong union contacts. Focused. Able. Articulate."

  • Gareth Thomas, the Harrow West MP "is now a junior minister [for international development] but I'd put him on the list because he's got the mixture of sharpness, pleasantness, principle and a canniness that is needed in the party and in Parliament."

Mr Kinnock says his choice of three men and five women - two of them young - is deliberate.

"Gender 'balance' is relevant and merit warrants it," he argues. "The women that I've mentioned all have 'spirit' - and that is never in over-abundant supply."


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