Labour looks for answers as leadership battle starts

THE LABOUR leadership contest started this weekend even as the party began a divisive inquest into how it lost the election.

Ed Miliband arrives at his home in north London following his resignation as leader of the Labour Party, after a dramatic election night where his party was virtually wiped out in Scotland and David Cameron winning a Commons majority. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 8, 2015. See PA story ELECTION Labour. Photo credit should read: Hannah McKay/PA Wire

Within hours of Ed Miliband announcing his decision to step down would-be successors were considering their options. Yorkshire’s Yvette Cooper was among the front runners, with Barnsley’s Dan Jarvis also named. Andy Burnham was the bookies favourite last night, at 2/1, followed closely by Chuka Umunna.

Harriet Harman takes over as temporary party leader, though she too has announced she will step down once a replacement is picked to allow the party a fresh break.

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The relatively heavy nature of Labour’s defeat prompted criticism within party ranks over both the nature of the leadership on offer to voters and the policies the party was committed to.

Prominent backbench MP Tom Watson, who has said he will consider going for the deputy leader position, said the party appeared to have failed to speak to working voters, and had not convinced small businesses it was on their side.

Bassetlaw MP John Mann said the party had been warned there was disaster coming, saying Mr Miliband’s leadership style was directly to blame for the result.

“I heard day in day out that Ed Miliband was not fit to be Prime Minister. Vast numbers of people said that to me. It didn’t diminish it increased. I reported it back.”

He added that Barnsley Central MP and ex-soldier Dan Jarvis was the “obvious” candidate for party leader.

Mr Mann said: “We need somebody who is not a political insider who has always been locked in Westminster.

“I’m going to put it to a primary in my constituency, I did last time and David Miliband won that primary last time, that was ignored but perhaps mistakenly.”

In Leeds Rachel Reeves said it had been a “difficult night for my party,” saying that Labour “will have to learn from and understand the result”.

She refused to be drawn on whether she felt Mr Miliband was the right man to lead the Labour Party.

The result was announced with Ms Reeves receiving 18,456 votes in Leeds West , powering ahead of nearest challenger, Conservative Alex Pierre Traves, on 7,729.

Wakefield Labour council leader Peter Box was more forthcoming in who he wanted to succeed Mr Miliband.

Mr Box: “I think Yvette Cooper would be an excellent party leader and make an excellent Prime Minister come 2020.”

Mr Miliband’s resignation became inevitable as soon as it became apparent that he had not only failed in his self-declared mission to make Labour a “one-term opposition” but had also led the party to stunning defeat by the Conservatives in Westminster and a massacre at the hands of the SNP in Scotland.

In his resignation statement, Mr Miliband said he took “absolute and total responsibility” for the result, which came at the end of a campaign in which he had repeatedly stated he was “ready” to become Prime Minister.

But the 45 year old’s leadership and ability to return Labour to power had long been subject to persistent questioning, even by those in his own party, since he became leader almost five years ago.

Mr Miliband was first elected as an MP in Doncaster North in 2005 and rose quickly through the party’s ranks to earn a place at the Cabinet table as energy secretary in 2007.

Narrowly beating his brother David to the Labour leadership in September 2010, following Gordon Brown’s defeat in that year’s general election, was a high point, but he has been unable to shake off comparisons to the former foreign secretary ever since.

Mr Miliband’s decision severely tested his relationship with his older brother and the family’s strains became a feature of this year’s election campaign when senior Conservatives accused him of “back stabbing”.