First published on Labour Uncut
The race for the Labour leadership is now under way. Much of it, as it has in recent days, will be fought out under the media spotlight. That is entirely right: the ability to perform well before the television cameras is crucial for any would-be leader of the opposition.
Moreover, especially now that the leadership contest will – for the first time – rightly provide an opportunity for those who support Labour, but are not members, to participate, it is vital that the public get to see the men and women who want to be the country’s prime minister in 2020.
But a winning leadership campaign is not just about having a smart media strategy. Organisation – the ability to put in place the infrastructure to engage with the members and supporters who will be choosing Labour’s next leader – is absolutely key.
Many party activists will, no doubt, be signing up in the days and weeks ahead to help elect the person they think best placed to lead Labour to victory in five years’ time. There are, however, four outstanding women who any leadership contender should want at the heart of their campaigns.
Caroline Badley’s role in organising the campaign that helped Gisela Stuart retain Birmingham Edgbaston – one of the Tories’ top target seats in 2010 – is now legendary. Last week, she helped Gisela do it again: doubling Labour’s majority in a seat which, until 1997, was the Conservatives’ Birmingham bastion. At the same time, Caroline was also running the effort to oust Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming from nearby Birmingham Yardley. Despite being up against a millionaire and facing vicious personal abuse, Jess Phillips took the seat on a swing of nearly 12 per cent. Caroline’s experience is, moreover, in no way confined to Birmingham: she’s worked with MPs, including Jon Cruddas in Dagenham and Yvette Cooper in Yorkshire, on their community outreach strategies.
That Labour was even in contention last Thursday is in no small part thanks to Sue Macmillan, the party’s 2010 acting general election coordinator and head of digital. She determined and oversaw the strategy which allowed Labour to achieve a 1992 level of representation in the House of Commons on a share of the vote not much better than that attained by Michael Foot in 1983. David Miliband smartly snapped her up to run his field operation in the 2010 leadership election – which, it is worth recalling, allowed him to win the support of 54 per cent of party members. At Mumsnet over the past five years Sue has further burnished her credentials, leading the way on the kind of cutting-edge digital campaigning that no 2015 leadership campaign should be without.
The former north-west regional director Sheila Murphy is someone you want at your side in a tough fight. In 2010, she ran Luciana Berger’s campaign in Liverpool Wavertree – a seat many feared ‘Cleggmania’ would see the Liberal Democrats take. Instead, Labour increased its majority. Unsurprisingly, when the Better Together campaign needed buttressing in the run-up to last year’s referendum in Scotland, Sheila was drafted in. She also oversaw one of the few bright spots of Thursday night: Esther McVey’s defeat in Wirral West.
In 1997, Margaret McDonagh was responsible for the key seat strategy which help net Labour a majority of 179. After the election, she became the party’s first female general secretary and oversaw Labour’s re-election effort in 2001, from which our majority emerged virtually unscathed.
Anyone who has been out on the doorstep with her in Mitcham and Morden knows that Margaret is a force of nature: there is no rest until the last leaflet has been delivered and door knocked on. But there are few people with a better understanding of how Labour works and, though she may deny it, there are also a fair few candidates who have won selection contest thanks to Margaret’s knowhow of the nuts and bolts which make a winning campaign.
No leadership campaign will manage to get the knowledge of all of these women. But any of them will be lucky to have one of them. It may just give them that winning edge.
Richard Angell is director of Progress