Monday, September 28, 2009

The Top 100 Left Wingers in Britain

Today the Daily Telegraph publishes its Top 100 Influential people on the left list, together with a comment piece from Brian Brivati and myself explaining the rankings. It's certainly rather different from last year.

As they meet at their party conference in Brighton , Labour’s members know that an unelected politician, who has twice resigned in disgrace, now holds the government together:

Baron Mandelson, of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durham, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the most powerful man on the Left of British politics.

Never before in The Daily Telegraph’s annual survey of the British political elite has Gordon Brown been off the top spot. But these are extraordinary times. When Brown brought Mandelson back into the Government, it was presented as the return of an experienced minister, In reality, it was the return of a political manager.

In a crisis, Mandelson stays calm, gives instructions, offers advice and issues threats to those who need to hear them. When Brown’s leadership was most heavily challenged, in the wake of the expenses crisis and the meltdown in the European elections, it was Mandelson who kept him in office. If he walked tomorrow, the government would not fall – but the remaining confidence in the future of brand Labour, as currently constituted, would disappear.

There is another reason for Mandelson’s supremacy: he is the only minister offering a coherent narrative of how Labour might win the next election, based on a return to the New Labour project of making policy that sits comfortably with middle England (hence Brown’s recent, and almost certainly doomed, attempt to portray himself as the champion of the middle classes).

Yet he has not had it all his own way. Alistair Darling’s stubborn refusal to be consigned to the dustbin of British politics kept both Mandelson and Ed Balls out of the Treasury, while his insistence that retrenchment would be necessary, given the scale of the fiscal disaster we face, helped puncture the Prime Ministerial fantasy of Labour “investment” vs Tory “cuts”.

Darling climbs 19 places accordingly. Similarly, while David Miliband slips due to his vacillation over the leadership, his refusal to leave the Foreign Office limited Brown’s scope for reconstructing his government and again demonstrated the limits on the Prime Minister’s power.

Yet the dramatic changes on our list since last year do not just reflect convulsions within the leadership – they demonstrate a wider malaise on the Left of British politics.

Of course, our survey, put together with the help of a panel of experts, is not scientific – that is part of the fun. But while the succession of ministerial resignations – including Hazel Blears, once tipped for a top job in government and party; Caroline Flint, a former rising star who thought herself “political window dressing”; and of course Damian McBride, number seven on our list last year – have created openings, there have been few new faces demanding a place at the high table.

The unions have improved their rankings overall, and some old faces have come out fighting: John Prescott, with the help of his son David, has used the internet to rally the troops and extend his political life, as has Alastair Campbell, and Charles Clarke has kept his profile high with a series of biting attacks on Gordon Brown. But who else?

James Purnell, last year’s golden boy and a major player in those bloody days of June, slips back a little. Yes, he was the only Cabinet member to summon the courage to resign on principle – but his resignation was not the knockout blow he expected, indicative of the extent that Brand Blair has declined in relevance, as many within Labour have lost faith in the one virtue that kept the project alive for so long – election-winning.

Purnell is now doing some hard thinking about Labour’s ideological direction at the think-tank Demos, Of his former colleagues, Harriet Harman has been a big winner, keeping the parliamentary ship afloat, holding the party together and positioning herself for life after Brown.

Of the Miliband brothers, it is Ed, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who came out of the expenses scandal and the leadership crisis best off.

Generally, the Brownite loyalists have slipped back as the Prime Minister’s authority receded: Ed Balls is down eight places, Douglas Alexander down seven, though Balls’s wife Yvette Cooper continues her slow creep up the rankings. By the same token, the prime minister’s advisers – McBride apart – might have done their jobs well, but those jobs have become increasingly difficult, hence their slide down the rankings.

So a vacuum has certainly opened up, but who is filling it? The old Left has climbed – Dennis Skinner enters our list at 68, for example – but not nearly as much as they should have done. Whenever Labour has lost power before, whether in the 1930s, 1950s or 1980s, there has always been a strong and coherent Left-wing position, critical of the governing wing of the party and ready to make its case after a defeat.

Yet the sheer scale of the party’s plight seems to have shocked them into silence: Jon Cruddas (up 61 places) and co have raised their voices, but have yet to produce a credible alternative to the existing agenda on the really big issues (even though they are well-positioned for the carnage the next election will bring about).

It has been left to lower-profile figures such as Jessica Asato at Progress and Richard Reeves at Demos (whose position on the Left is nominal at best) to make the running on issues like constitutional reform. Indeed, apart from the arguments about public expenditure, this is the only area in which clear Red water has developed.

Admittedly, in the current economic and fiscal environment, it is hard to see what the domestic agenda of a resurgent Left would really look – another stimulus package, paid for with even higher direct taxation on the rich? Yet globally, the state is back, a liberal sits in the White House and the recession is slowly responding to various forms of fiscal stimulus (or emerging from the cycle as it would have done anyway, depending on your economics). It should be a time of dynamic new entries to the list. But the great thinkers of the Left seem strangely muted, while the younger generation seems to be keeping its head down and waiting for the election.

There are very few fresh faces on the scene, very few new ideas surfacing. The Left is treading water as the sharks on the right circle and wait for the kill. By the next year, the corpse will have been picked clean, and not many of the people at the top will remain relevant. The question most of our 100 names are spending rather too much of their time thinking about is who will replace them.

Here are the Top 50, together with their rankings last year...

1 81 Peter Mandelson
2 1 Gordon Brown
3 6 Harriet Harman
4 4 Ed Miliband
5 24 Alistair Darling
6 67 Jon Cruddas
7 11 Charlie Whelan
8 2 David Miliband
9 14 Alan Johnson
10 9 Derek Simpson
11 Sarah Brown
12 3 Alex Salmond
13 5 Ed Balls
14 12 Tony Blair
15 8 James Purnell
16 13 Jack Straw
17 John Prescott & David Prescott
18 Lord Adonis
19 Tessa Jowell
20 29 Alastair Campbell
21 21 Tony Woodley
22 53 John Denham
23 16 Polly Toynbee
24 22 Nick Brown
25 42 Andy Burnham
26 37 Frank Field
27 28 Shriti Vadera
28 50 Caroline Lucas
29 38 Yvette Cooper
30 34 Liam Byrne
31 31 Deborah Mattinson
32 65 Sunder Katwala
33 26 Douglas Alexander
34 64 Richard Reeves
35 45 Neal Lawson
36 25 Andrew Rawnsley
37 39 Shaun Woodward
38 Glenys Kinnock
39 Geoff Mulgan
40 52 Dave Prentis
41 Baroness Royall
42 54 Mark Serwotka
43 Amartya Sen
44 43 Alan Rusbridger
45 23 Jackie Ashley
46 94 Steve Richards
47 47 Jack Dromey
48 30 Brendan Barber
49 57 Jim Murphy
50 88 Phil Collins

Short biogs and analysis of the Top 50 are HERE and 51-100 HERE.


Letters From A Tory said...

The fact that a trade union leader is now above Ed Balls tells you how far Balls has fallen in the pecking order since Mandy came back

John K said...

How can Tony Blair be included in any list of "left wingers"?

IanVisits said...

I think a lot of Labour activists in Brighton will quite quite surprised to read that Lord Mandy is topping a list of influential leftist politicians.

Mainly for discovering that he left-wing.

True Belle said...

Is Peter Mandelson just an illusion. A political lifestyle guru? Are other members of his party daunted by his political pedigree?

What does he really want, do we really know how NU Lab really view him? Or is he the original architect of Nu Lab?

Are the Tories really eying him up?

Is he a big mouth piece for the EU-?

I just want to see some one at the helm that has Britains needs and interests at heart.

Stuff political gamesmanship, we dont' have time for that do we?

Prodicus said...

Sabotage at 28, Iain. Some wag has deleted whoever you put in and put in 'Caroline Lucas' instead. Influential? 'No-Brain' Lucas? Hahahahaha

Willie said...

Surely Bob Jobsworth deserves a mention somewhere? He is only the Secretary of State for Defence, after all. Anyone might think he was totally unimportant useless waste of space who ought to be in Afghanistan cleaning soldier's boots, otherwise.

Anonymous said...

By what stretch of your fevered imagination is Mandelson 'left wing'?

Sir Edward Heath said...

"Surely Bob Jobsworth deserves a mention somewhere? He is only the Secretary of State for Defence, after all. Anyone might think he was totally unimportant useless waste of space who ought to be in Afghanistan cleaning soldier's boots, otherwise." Willie.

Bob Jobsworth should not be in Afghanistan cleaning soldier's boots - not even to lick them.

He is quite unfit to do so.

Twig said...

Willie said...
Surely Bob Jobsworth deserves a mention somewhere? He is only the Secretary of State for Defence, after all. Anyone might think he was totally unimportant useless waste of space who ought to be in Afghanistan cleaning soldier's boots, otherwise.
September 28, 2009 10:55 AM

He's not fit to polish their boots.

James Mackenzie said...

My money's on Caroline Lucas making the top 10-15 next year as the Parliamentary leader of the only party to the left of Labour.

happyuk said...

These people will certainly look out of place inside a Jobcentre Plus. Or a callcentre.

someday said...

I do wish people would stop using this outmoded left-right dialectic.

Anonymous said...

Describing any left winger as influential at the moment is akin to describing spent cartridge cases as powerful ammunition.

wapping boy said...

How many of these people are "intimate" with Derek Draper?

Anonymous said...

Who cares - this is simply a list of failed nonentities - talk to us about people with vision,sparkle,charisma and morals.

THIS lot - toss the paper and them on the fire.

Anonymous said...

Amartya Sen ... influential leftwinger.

I don't think so.

Influential yes, leftwinger certainly not.

Simon Gardner said...

Actually and speaking as someone who has never voted Green and never will because of civil nuclear power, Dr Caroline Lucas has made far better use of her position as an MEP than anyone else.

Thoroughly able - if one is being non-partisan about it.

And Alex Salmond deserves his place too.

Ray said...

the list is of the top 100 "left wingers", not politicians, so where are the BBC and Guardian journalists and the others who put so much time and energy into defending the undefendable.

Mister of the Universe said...

Mandelson must be one of them new style left-wongas who says that he would have no problem working for the Conservatives

Felmingcrag said...

Who gives a shit....As Michael Heseltine once famously said, you can always tell when the Labour army is on the march by the drill sergeant's call;
Left, Left, Left, Left, Left, Left........

Dimoto said...

I hate this soft Tory love-in with Mandelson. It seems they still hanker after a sleazy manipulator of their own.
Manderson needs to be surgically removed from British public life, permanently, for everybody's good.
If you want to be a Mandy groupie Iain, feel free - but for Christ's sake do it in private !!

Dimoto said...

Oi !!
Where's Surallen ?

Word check: reweedin.

Max Atkinson said...

If Mandelson is top of the pops, he doesn't seem top of the party faithfuls' pops if their reluctance to applaud some key messages in his party conference speech is anything to go by - for analysis and video clip, see

Chris said...

Sharks on the right?

Come on, Iain - we all know that the only reason these 'sharks' are being fed is because they're feasting on floating corpses.

Not to mention that half the people on the list are... well...

...left-right is SO tiring when neither really exist in modern politics, except in the heads of the players.

Jimmy said...

Can't believe you left out Giggs.