Former minister backs Benn for deputy leadership

Former culture secretary Chris Smith has today announced his support for Hilary Benn as the new deputy leader of the Labour party.

The international development secretary is now the bookies’ favourite to win the race for John Prescott’s job, and today Lord Smith joined MPs Gordon Banks, Andrew Miller and Chris Mullin, Baroness Corston and Lord Puttnam in backing him.

“We believe Hilary is the candidate best placed to help rebuild a coalition of trust across the party, ready to take on the Tories at the next election,” they wrote in a letter to the Guardian.

The letter adds: “Hilary’s roots in the party and the trade unions, and his record in local government before he became an MP, gave him an understanding of the breadth and depth of the Labour movement, allowing him to be a popular and trusted champion for members of the party up and down the country.”

Mr Benn is up against Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, education secretary Alan Johnson, constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman and Labour backbencher Jon Cruddas for the deputy leadership.

According to William Hill bookmakers, Mr Benn is leading the race with odds of 7-2, compared to 9-2 for Mr Cruddas, 6-1 for both Mr Hain and Mr Johnson and 7-1 for Ms Harman.

Ladbrokes puts Mr Benn equal with Mr Johnson on 3-1, followed by Mr Hain, Mr Cruddas and Ms Harman last. However, the constitutional affairs minister came out top in a recent YouGov poll with 15 per cent of Labour support.

Last week, Mr Hain announced that local government minister Phil Woolas was leading his campaign for the deputy leadership. He named 25 MPs who supported him, including Northern Ireland ministers Maria Eagle and Paul Goggins, and Eluned Morgan MEP.

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, has claimed the support of more than 70 Labour MPs for his bid, including Sadiq Khan, Gerry Sutcliffe and Jim Knight.

  • Labour rebel Gordon Prentice MP has drawn up an early day motion saying the post of deputy prime minister, which is currently held by Mr Prescott as deputy Labour leader, “serves no useful purpose and should be abolished forthwith”.

Four MPs have so far joined him in backing the motion, which effectively calls for Mr Prescott to be sacked immediately. He has said he will step down when Tony Blair does.