And the next leader of the Labour Party is …

John Rentoul

peter mandelson pic getty 949654963 300x199 And the next leader of the Labour Party is ...The Peter Mandelson Memorial Dim Sum Lunch took place a little late this year. This was a gathering that started on 23 December 1998, when Mandelson first resigned from the Cabinet. By coincidence, the same group of my friends were lunching just after Christmas two years later, on 24 January 2001, when Mandelson resigned again.

The feature of these lunches, apart from a toast to the Prince, is that we engage in political predictions. The outcome of the next election, the next leader of each of the main parties and the next chancellor and shadow chancellor are usually decided by the end of the second pot of green tea.

There have been a few misfirings over the years. Mark Oaten in 2006 as the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, for example. But David Cameron in December 2004 as the next Tory leader was not bad.

This year, however, we encountered an unusual problem. We simply could not come up with a single credible name as next leader of the Labour Party.

The prediction for next election was definite, if controversial. The consensus was that David Cameron would be Prime Minister after it. The implication of this is that Ed Miliband would stand down. And yet, although this is less than two and a half years away, we could not even come up with names for his successor over which to debate.

Well, we came up with names, all right, but we rejected each one. We agreed that if Ed Miliband should become “permanently unavailable”, in the words of Labour’s constitution, in the next few months, Yvette Cooper would become leader. Had she stood in the 2010 leadership election instead of her husband, she would have won, and that is still true. But after the next election is a different matter. We were not sure that she wants it enough, or that the party would want another Brownite.

David Miliband might still be interested, but it would feel as if the party were going backwards. Surely the next leader is more likely to come from the 2010 intake.

We reviewed my list of the six most promising MPs of the 2010 intake: Luciana Berger, Gloria De Piero, Michael Dugher, Rachel Reeves, Jonathan Reynolds and Chuka Umunna. I checked the odds at the bookmakers. Cooper is currently the favourite at 11/4, followed by David Miliband 6/1 and Umunna 9/1, with Ed Balls at 12/1 and Jim Murphy at 14/1.

The Peter Mandelson Memorial Dim Sum Lunch just wasn’t convinced by any of them. Or by Stella Creasy, 25/1, who is possibly the most impressive Labour MP at the moment, and a shadow Home Office minister, but who does not look like the leader of the opposition in 2015. (She is the same odds as Tony Blair and Oddschecker can’t even spell her.)

After lunch, further soundings were taken. It was reluctantly agreed that, if Labour loses the next election, Rachel Reeves, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is probably the most likely to be elected Labour leader.

But it says something about the state of the People’s Party that we should find it so hard to answer this question, does it not?

Photograph: Getty

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