Opinion: Labour's 'deputies' plan their media tactics

Now the Westminster lobby hacks appear to have finally accepted that Gordon Brown is a shoo-in to be next prime minister, Hilary Benn has sensibly bolstered his comms armoury.

With no leadership contest to write about, ­attention is naturally turning to the race for deputy leadership of the Labour Party, and Alan Johnson is about to throw himself into the fray.

Johnson's problem is that he is competing for the so-called Blairite vote with Benn, who has already mustered the support of the 44 MPs needed to run, and was the bookies' favourite at the time of writing.

But what must his father - the hard-left Tony Benn - think of Hilary receiving advice from Croydon-based The Campaign Company (TCC)?

Actually, it seems eminently sensible, because Benn's strategy is to reach out early to the millions of trade union levy payers who will have a vote in the deputy leadership. And TCC certainly knows its way around the trade union movement, having worked for Amicus and the Communication ­Workers' Union in the past. It has also acted for aspiring Labour MEPs, helping candidates to poll high in members' ballots.

Harriet Harman, the only woman competing, is also certain to run a smart media campaign with husband Jack Dromey in charge. Jack has run many campaigns for the TGWU, and is sure to use his influence with the unions. Indeed, the majority of women in the Labour Party appear to have united around Harman, much to the consternation of Hazel Blears,who is unlikely to get the magic 44 supporters in Westminster.

The other big question is whether big-hitters such as John Reid or Jack Straw will enter the race. Reid has handled the media badly so far. His unpopularity means he is unlikely to run. Straw, on the other hand, would have no difficulty in rounding up the necessary 44 MPs, but doesn't really believe he can win.

All this is good news for John Cruddas because he can now achieve the support that looked beyond his reach. Cruddas is an interesting candidate, especially as he has told journalists he doesn't want the title of deputy PM. This may force ­others to say the same, or they could be port­rayed as standing for personal gain.

The upshot is that Brown may be able to pick his own deputy, or even choose not to have one. ­Either way, the next prime minister is going out of his way not to make his preference public. In ­private, however, the Chancellor will be backing Harman.

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