It all started decades ago when Tony Benn led a campaign to make the party ‘more democratic’ by giving members and trade unionists a say in electing both leader and deputy. Back then, Benn challenged Denis Healy for the deputy role, and the former Chancellor scraped home, thus narrowly avoiding a major schism.
And this week, when I got a call from William Hill’s Graham Sharpe, the best PR man in betting, I knew it was all happening again. Sharpe told me there were already six ‘runners’ for the non-job – and you can be sure there will be more to follow.
This is the nightmare scenario for Gordon Brown, who was increasingly looking like a shoo-in for the top job. The last thing he wanted was a huge squabble over the deputy leadership that makes Labour look divided.
Worse still, there is the inevitable media speculation that some of the deputy candidates could even make decent leaders.
Let’s face it, not even the most naïve political observer believes the likes of Education Secretary Alan Johnson has a burning ambition just to become a deputy.
At odds of 7/4 he is current favourite and so far has run the best PR campaign, stressing that he ‘talks the people’s language’ – unlike, they say, Brown the Scot.
The Chancellor himself will have to keep out of the fray, even though his preference is for a woman to get the job. However, at 3/1, Harriet Harman’s odds aren’t that tempting.
Peter Hain’s wooden interview with Andy Marr on the BBC last Sunday has done him no favours, and Jack Straw may be 5/2, but he won’t see a penny of my money.
All this unwelcome talk about a deputy leadership election comes just as the Tories take a double-figure lead in the polls, and for the first time the media really believe Cameron could make it to Number 10. Thankfully for Labour, they do have a secret weapon: the World Cup. During the next five weeks, so long as England stay in the competition, all the political PR people can take a holiday. The nation is only thinking about one thing – and it sure isn’t the Labour deputy leadership.
The Tories should pray that on 9 July in Berlin, David Beckham will not be lifting the Jules Rimet trophy. Because the boost that would give to the party in power cannot be overestimated.