Britain's future - where do the Labour candidates stand?

With hustings for the Labour Party Leadership well underway, the five candidates have been busy battling to distance themselves from the era of Blair and Brown. But what have they had to say about electoral reform, civil liberties, human rights and Iraq, and how does each of their respective voting records stand up to scrutiny?
Ryan Gallagher
20 July 2010

With the campaign for the Labour Leadership well underway, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and the Miliband brothers have been travelling the length and breadth of Britain, subjecting audiences to “Twitter Politics“ whilst running the risk of boring themselves to death.  With more than thirty hustings so far under their belts, the candidates have been embroiled in a battle as much to distance themselves from the era of Blair and Brown as they have for the title of party leader.

The Miliband brothers are both marketing themselves under the banner of “change”; Balls and Abbott have played the Iraq card; Ed Miliband has acknowledged that New Labour were “draconian” on civil liberties; and Burnham says under Blair and Brown Labour became too much about “elites” handing out “dictats”– it’s time to “reconnect” with people who have “lost faith” in Labour, he says. 

But as each of the candidates takes time to exorcise the demons of yesteryear, what have they had to say on some of the most divisive issues of New Labour’s time in office – in particular on civil liberties and war – and how does each of their respective voting records stand up to scrutiny?  What questions have the candidates not been answering?  And, if given the chance, what questions would you like to see them answer?  Table us your suggestions below, and we will send the best ones to the candidates and do our best to get them answered with the replies published here. As with OurKingdom's questions for the candidates for deputy leadership in 2007 the emphasis will be very much on questions that address issues of political reform and civil liberties.

This is how the candidates match up so far:

Diane Abbott


MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (1987-present).

Considered a “no-hoper” in the leadership contest, Diane Abbott’s outsider status is cemented not only by the fact that she is a black female competing in a race dominated by white males, but because as her voting record illustrates, she has consistently refused to toe the line with the New Labour agenda.  In 2003 she opposed the Invasion of Iraq, and voted against what she called “draconian” terror legislation introduced in the wake of September 11th.  Terror legislation, she said, would have a “detrimental effect on relations between the police and Muslim communities.”  In recent weeks and months she has been outspoken in her calls for an inquiry into “British complicity in torture”, has expressed her support for the Alternative Vote (AV) and has stoked controversy by describing her competitors in the leadership race as “strange sort of geeky young men in suits.”

Voted on key issues:

  • Against 90 and 42 days detention without charge, and moderately against other related terror legislation (Control Orders, Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2005)
  • Against Iraq War
  • Against ID cards
  • Against replacing Trident
  • Against airstrikes in Afghanistan (2001)
  • Was absent from 14 out of 16 votes on Iraq war investigation

Approx donations received: none declared

Odds: 1.1%


Ed Balls


MP for Normanton (2004-May 2010); MP for Morley and Outwood (May 2010-present).

Ed Balls was a paid up member of the Oxford University Conservative association during the Thatcher years, whilst at the same time he was also a member of the University’s “Labour Club”.  Inspired to “show you could run an economy in a way which delivered social justice” he eventually favoured Labour, and with his Tory days behind him has been described as “the left’s standard bearer” in the current leadership race (though in reality he is politically centrist).  Balls drew criticism from David Miliband for being the first leadership candidate to raise his opposition to the Iraq war – “It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war”, he told the Telegraph – though his voting record shows he did not vote in favour of an investigation into “the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq”.  He has come out in favour of a written constitution, and supports AV as well as an elected House of Lords.  Balls has said little on civil liberties or human rights, but in November 2006 gave a speech to the Fabian Society where he proclaimed that the Labour party would “champion individual potential and protect individual liberties” – only eight months after having voted in favour of the Identity Cards Bill.  At a hustings in June he clarified his position: “We did allow the use of terrorist laws in non terror situations, we went too far... but at the same time we can’t let the issue of civil liberties and constitutional reform be only about the state getting out of the way.”  Balls has the backing of former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and his campaign manager is Peter Hain, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, who was forced to resign from the cabinet in 2008 following a donations scandal

Voted on key issues:

  • Against Iraq investigation
  • In favour of replacing Trident with a new nuclear deterrent
  • For ID cards
  • For stricter asylum system (Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, 2005 (allowed biometric tests to be carried out on those entering UK))
  • In favour of 90 and 42 days detention without charge and other terror related legislation (Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill; Prevention of Terrorism Bill; Control Orders)
  • Most “gay friendly voting record“ of the five candidates and has recently said he supports gay marriage

Approx donations received: £30,000

Odds: 6%

Andy Burnham


MP for Leigh (2001-present).

The problem with the Labour party, according to Andy Burnham, is that for too long the party has been run by “a political elite on the London dinner party circuit” engaging in “self indulgent factionalism.”  A member of parliament for Leigh, Burnham is keen to present his “ordinary background” and Manchester base as evidence that what he offers is a fresh alternative to the privileged Westminster-centric Labour elite who “issue out the dictats” to the rest of the party.  He has described himself as a “Blairite for Brown”, and is also keen to bring the word “socialism” back in to the political vernacular (albeit with his "aspirational" prefix that evokes “Third Way” triangulation).  “It's on our party card,” he says, “it's what I think we all are, but we haven't felt able to say it for 16 years.”  Hesitant to commit his full support to electoral reform, he has says he is “tending towards AV” but thinks a debate is necessary before any decisions are made.  An advocate of ID cards (“in this century the individual enhances their own protection by protecting their own identity”) and the DNA database (“the DNA database prevents miscarriages of justice”), he describes himself as a “team player in politics”, and doesn’t regret the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  “I don’t back away from the original decision,” he says. “I believe it gave hope to people in that country of a better future, and I would argue it has made us more able now to take a stronger position in relation to Iran.”

Voted on key issues:

  • In favour of Iraq invasion
  • Against Iraq investigation
  • For the introduction of ID cards
  • In favour of 90 and 42 days detention without charge and other terror related legislation (Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill; Prevention of Terrorism Bill; Control Orders)
  • In favour of replacing Trident with a new nuclear deterrent
  • For stricter asylum system (Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2002 (extended power of authorities to detain asylum seekers); Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, 2005; Asylum and Immigration Bill, 2004)
  • For Freedom of Information Amendment Bill (2007) (this Bill was an attempt to prevent MPs expenses claims being revealed under the FOI Act – it was rejected)
  • Has “worst gay voting record“ of the five contenders

Approx donations received: none declared

Odds: 2.4%

David Miliband


Member of Parliament for South Shields (2001-present).

A clear favourite in the race for leadership, David Miliband has long been tipped as a potential Prime Minister of the future; he was head of Labour policy at age 29, and in 2007 became the youngest Foreign Secretary in thirty years at 41. Like his younger brother Ed, David is campaigning on the “change” ticket (“join the movement for change” is his campaign slogan), and is keen to promote his human rights record: “as Foreign Secretary David has stood up for human rights in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Middle East and spoke out against the invasion of Lebanon by Israel”, reads the fifth of “ten things you never knew about David” on his official website.  His tenure as Foreign Secretary was, however, tainted by his involvement in a controversial struggle to suppress intelligence information relating to torture allegations in the case of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.  The evidence, which revealed Mohamed had been subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, was eventually made public, though Miliband warned that release of the information could constitute a “grave breach of trust” with the US and “affect national security”.  Grilled by Channel  4’s Jon Snow on the subject, Miliband distinguished between “inhuman treatment” and “torture”, and claimed a “blurred divide” could be seen to exist between the two, though his website makes no mention of this.  He says he “belives strongly” in the need for AV in the Commons, and thinks it should be combined with PR in the Lords.  During the hustings he has stated that he believes “the state got too big” under new labour, and cites the 90 days detention issue as an example of this, though he voted in favour of it in 2005. “That was too long”, he says.  

Voted on key issues:

  • Against Iraq Investigation
  • For the Iraq War
  • For stricter Asylum System (Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2002; Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, 2004; Asylum and Immigration Bill, 2005)
  • For Trident renewal
  • For ID cards
  • For airstrikes in Afghanistan (2001)
  • For 90 and 42 days detention without charge (Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill; Prevention of Terrorism Bill; Control Orders)

Approx donations received: £200,000

Odds: 60.9%

Ed Miliband


MP for Doncaster North (2005-present).

A self proclaimed feminist, Ed Miliband is running for leader on the pledge that if elected his shadow cabinet would be half-female.  He identifies himself as “someone who is liberal on social issues,” and says that he accepts “in government we were too draconian on aspects of our civil liberties.”  During the hustings he has spoken in support of New Labour’s CCTV strategy and plans for a DNA database – though says section 44, ID cards and 90 days are regrettable. In 2009 he came close to resigning in protest at the Cabinet’s decision to approve plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, and he has attempted to distance himself from both Blair and Brown in recent weeks by claiming that during Blair’s term he was known as an “emissary from a different planet” because he was one of the “least tribal people” in the party.  Like the other candidates, Ed favours AV and Lords reform.  “We are living in the 21st century with a 19th century political system – and that’s what needs to change,” he said at a Fabian Society hosted hustings in June.  Though not an MP in 2003 when the vote on Iraq was cast, Ed claims he has been against the war from day one (“the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he [Saddam] had those weapons”, he told the Guardian), much to the ire of his opponents.  Some commentators have labelled him “Labour’s Cameron” because of the way he carries himself, and like Cameron he is also campaigning on the “change” ticket.  At a televised hustings on June 15th, summing up where he felt Labour had gone wrong, he said:  “We became technocrats and managers of our society... people lost a sense of what we stood for and what we believed in.”

Voted on key issues:

  • Against Iraq investigation
  • For the introduction of ID cards
  • In favour of 90 and 42 days detention without charge and other terror related legislation (Control Orders, Prevention of Terrorism Bill)
  • In favour of replacing Trident with a new nuclear deterrent
  • For stricter asylum system (Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, 2005)

Approx donations received: £15,000.

Odds: 29.8%

Source of voting records:

Odds correct at time of publication, as provided by

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