Benn confident as ‘activists’ choice’

The international development secretary Hilary Benn claims he is winning the deputy leadership race among the Labour grassroots.

Mr Benn has received the most nominations from constituency Labour parties.

When nominations closed at 12:30pm today Mr Benn had the backing of 77 local Labour parties.

Significantly, the international development secretary had been nominated by Gordon Brown’s and Jack Straw’s local constituency Labour parties, Kirkcaldy and Cowedenbeath and Blackburn.

Union-favourite Jon Cruddas has the backing of 68 local parties, Harriet Harman 60, Alan Johnson 45, Hazel Blears 36 and Peter Hain 23.

Despite initially being tipped as a strong contender for the deputy leadership – and rumoured favourite of Mr Brown – Mr Benn struggled to receive the necessary 45 nominations from MPs.

But, he insisted he was focusing his support among the grassroots activists and would be rejuvenated when the race entered the local level.

His campaign chair Ian McCartney said: “Hilary is a grassroots politician and this proves it. Labour party members are flocking to his campaign but there is a long way still to go.

“I am calling on rank and file trade unionists like myself to join our campaign and to back Hilary’s call for a fairer deal for hardworking men and women.”

Hilary Benn is the bookies’ favourite to win the deputy leadership contest. He is closely followed by Alan Johnson, who is seen as offering a link to the party’s working class roots.

Meanwhile, Jon Cruddas remains the unions’ favourite and has been backed by the mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Earlier this week the six deputy candidates took part in a televised debate, where they discussed Iraq, spin, immigration and inequality.

The Conservatives seized on their comments as evidence of a “lurch to the left” within the party, prompting a reprimand from Mr Brown.

The supposedly leftist comments appeared popular with viewers, however, as an online poll showed a boost for Mr Cruddas following the debate.

A BBC online poll found the backbench MP was the most popular candidate, followed by Harriet Harman, Mr Johnson, Hazel Bleaars, Mr Benn and Peter Hain.