Closer Look, 2013 Labour Vice-Presidential Selection
In the Commonwealth Vice-Presidential picks were often used to “balance the ticket”, to cover the weaknesses of the Presidential candidate. Lucy Powell, the woman in charge of Miliband’s VP selection, identified a list of criteria the ideal running mate would meet. Firstly, as Miliband was a white man they would need to be either a woman, person of colour or both. The ideal candidate would be either from one of the Celtic nations or the South of England, to balance out Ed’s northern constituency. The ideal candidate would be older and wiser to match the youthful Miliband. Finally the ideal candidate would have experience outside of Westminster, either as a Premier or a Mayor.
Thus Powell curated her shortlist of eleven candidates, ranging from Senators to First Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries. Of the eleven she presented to the rest of team Miliband, three: Coaker, Hunt and Reeves were dismissed out of hand. Coaker’s coalition with the Tories in the East Midlands had made him too toxic a choice, both Hunt and Reeves had performed badly in the primaries and as young Senators they did little to balance out the Miliband ticket.
Of the eight who went to interview several issues were raised, Umunna was dropped from consideration fairly early on. The campaign between him and Miliband had been fairly toxic and there was a lot of bad blood between the campaigns. Insiders feared Umunna was too ambitious to be a team player. As Miliband staffer Torsten Bell put it: “with Chuka as the VP Ed would be constantly looking over his shoulder, it wouldn’t be a workable relationship for either side."
Healey and Burnham too were both dismissed at the interview stage, as fellow youngish soft-left cabinet secretaries from the North of England with trade union connections they brought little to the ticket that Miliband didn’t already have. Miliband was eager to bridge the factional gap in his party and reach out to the party’s right and decided it would be best to pick someone who wasn’t an ideological ally.
This narrowed the list down to the final five for extreme vetting and multiple long-haul interviews. The first of the final five to be dropped was Rosie Winterton, a fellow Yorkshire representative, she had a strong relationship with Miliband and was seen as a keen running mate, the fact she was a woman also played in her favour. Winterton was a popular backroom operator and liked by all wings of the party, but the campaign decided she’d be more valuable behind the throne than on the stage.
Sadiq Khan was also dropped in the extreme vetting stage, he was a loyal lieutenant of Miliband’s having chaired both his Presidential campaigns, he would make history by being the first BAME and Muslim Vice-President. However Khan had the similar problems to Healey and Burnham, despite his race Khan was still a youngish soft-lefty, picking Khan wouldn’t allow Miliband to expand his base or unify his party, so he decided to let him go.
And thus Miliband had to choose from the final three: Alexander, Cooper and Harman. Cooper would be the obvious choice, a woman, former competitor, experience and close with the Prime Minister, she would be ideal. Cooper knew she would be ideal and thus demanded a heavy price for coming on to the ticket, many saw VP as a step down from Foreign Secretary and thus Cooper demanded unprecedented powers, especially over Foreign Affairs. It was not a deal Miliband could make and thus Cooper walked out of consideration.
So it came down to the final two, Alexander and Harman. Miliband staffer Patrick Hennessy described the decision as a “coin toss”, on one hand Alexander was a solid choice, eminently experienced, from the right of the party but not hostile to Miliband and from Scotland a key target region. However Alexander had some drawbacks, he was incredibly unpopular amongst the unions, with several major funders including Unite threatening to pull funding if Alexander was chosen. Secondly during Alexander’s vetting, former Brown spin doctor Damien McBride published his memoirs where he accused Alexander of leaking and briefing against Gordon Brown. If true, picking Alexander would be a mighty risk.
The other side of the coin was Harman, loyal, non-factional and authoritative, as well as being a woman. Harman ticked all the boxes Powell had set out and then some, she could be trusted not to embarrass the campaign, she worked with all Labour figures and she got on well with the unions, she was the safe and obvious choice. In the end Miliband decided Alexander would be too much of a risk and revealed his running mate at a rally in Manchester; Harriet Harman.
Miliband announces Harman as his running mate