Miliband tipped to succeed Brown as Labour leader

Former British home secretary Alan Johnson today ruled himself out as a contender for the Labour leadership, announcing he will back David Miliband in the upcoming contest to succeed Gordon Brown.

Mr Johnson had long been tipped as a possible successor to Mr Brown and was one of the leading Cabinet cheerleaders for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats which could have resulted in him taking the top job.

But this morning he said that Mr Miliband, the former foreign secretary, was the party’s “greatest talent” and should be Labour’s new leader.

Asked if he was standing in the leadership contest, Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, I’m not. I am going to support David Miliband.”

Labour MPs will come together for the first time in opposition today as the parliamentary party gathers to consider the way forward in the wake of election defeat and Mr Brown's resignation as leader.

Harriet Harman was yesterday appointed acting leader until a successor to Mr Brown is chosen. She has said that she intends to remain deputy leader, which would rule her out of standing in the race for the leadership.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee has agreed to meet “in the days and weeks ahead” to determine the timetable and the procedures for electing a new leader.

Among others expected to run for the job are Mr Miliband’s brother Ed, as well as his former cabinet colleague Ed Balls, with other contenders possibly including party “greybeard” Jack Straw, former health secretary Andy Burnham and influential backbencher Jon Cruddas.

David Miliband has not yet formally announced he will run, but his comment on Monday that he and “other candidates” would not yet declare themselves has led many commentators to conclude that he will throw his hat into the ring.

Mr Johnson today called for “the broadest possible contest”, in contrast to Mr Brown’s succession in 2007, when no other candidate was able to muster the signatures needed to challenge for the job.

“I think we have a bevy of great talent there,” said Mr Johnson. “I think David is the greatest talent.

“I think he is a remarkable politician and his talent is to put very complex ideas into clear language, so I will be backing him.

“We need the broadest possible contest, having had the narrowest possible contest when Gordon took over.

“So as many hats in the ring as possible, but one of them won’t be mine.”

Would-be leaders of the opposition are expected to start declaring their candidacies over the coming days, and there were signs yesterday that hopefuls were beginning to set out their stalls.

Mr Burnham was the first cabinet minister to come out publicly and warn that coalition with the Liberal Democrats was not viable, while Mr Balls was quick to warn the new Tory/Lib Dem coalition that Labour would fight immediate cuts in public spending.

One of the architects of New Labour, Lord Mandelson, insisted that the project was not over as a result of the party’s ejection from office after 13 years.

Lord Mandelson told the BBC: “The New Labour vision and the New Labour organisation is alive and well.

“But elections come and go and governments come and go and that’s what democracy is all about.

“I feel very proud that we have been able to do what we have been able to do.”

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