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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Labour's agonising choice
Deputy leadership contenders

Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

From famine to feast and from the coronation to the catwalk.

The Labour Party - never mind the public - may have been denied any say in who will be the next prime minister.

But, when it comes to the deputy party leader, candidates are falling over themselves to replace John Prescott (although the word "irreplaceable" has attached itself to the outgoing deputy of late - and not in a good way).

Perhaps too much choice is simply that - too much. Life is just too short

It is as if the parliamentary party has been engulfed by an overwhelming sense of guilt at the lack of a democratic election for leader, and is over-compensating.

So the six wannabes lined up in front of Jeremy Paxman on a Newsnight special to strut their stuff and show, only by praising each other of course, what a wealth of talent there is in the modern Labour Party.

And, perhaps not for the first time in the brave New Labour world, when the promise of choice was finally delivered, it somehow failed to satisfy.

Distinguishing features

Perhaps too much choice is simply that - too much. Life is just too short.

And maybe in modern, centrist, ideology-free politics it may have become impossible for six people to stand on six entirely distinctive platforms.

Choosing between a fish supper or an Indian is one thing - but between haddock and cod, or lamb bhuna and prawn bhuna?

The words trust, honesty, transparency and openness are being bandied about in a way that seems to suggest they are somehow novel concepts

To be fair, there were some distinctive approaches - Jon Cruddas and Harriet Harman were unequivocal in their regret at voting for the war and their support for the idea that the government should say sorry, for example.

Ms Harman and Peter Hain were equally angry at the way the good old spin machine had briefed newspapers on the latest Home Office "stop and quiz" policy before the Cabinet, let alone the police or anyone on the party, had been told or, heaven forbid, consulted.

Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Hazel Blears were in agreement that they didn't like Mr Cruddas's apparent threat to tax the likes of David Beckham until his hair stood on end (again), which Ms Harman did like.

Alan Johnson was the best at giving a straight "yes or no" answer when put on the spot by Mr Paxman and Mr Cruddas was the only one willing to say which of the others he would vote for - and it was Ms Harman.

What about the war?

One thing did emerge quite quickly - all appear to agree that the Blair era, great as it was, is over. It is time for something completely different.

The words trust, honesty, transparency and openness are being bandied about in a way that seems to suggest they are somehow novel concepts, and certainly that they are areas where the past regime has fallen short.

And on perhaps the biggest question - Iraq. Well they all voted for the war, none wanted to wriggle out of that responsibility, but all agreed things might have been different if they had known then what they know now.

Ms Harman and Jon Cruddas went further than the others in saying they would not have voted for it, had they known then that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

For those left wanting more as the late night debate ended, the good news is that there are another three weeks of campaigning to go before Labour Party and union members have to make their choice.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The six candidates engage in a Newsnight debate



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