Old Hands and Young Turks: The Contenders for PM's Crown; in the Frame: Jack Straw, David Miliband and James Purnell Are Possible Contenders

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

JACK STRAW Justice Secretary Shrewd, experienced and pragmatic, Straw is uniquely qualified to deliver bad news to Gordon Brown.

MPs universally name him as the leader of any delegation to tell the PM his time is up. At 61, he has four decades of high-level politics under his belt, and has held three great offices of state: Home, Foreign and Lord Chancellor. Some call him the Real Deputy Prime Minister.

Handled the transition from Blair to Brown brilliantly, emerging stronger. In recent months he is said to have become frustrated with Brown. The prize for wielding the knife might be to become caretaker premier or a heavyweight Deputy PM. If he dithers, he risks being supplanted as Cabinet greybeard by Margaret Beckett.

Critically, his majority is only 8,009 in Blackburn. If things don't get better, he could lose his seat.

Leadership odds: 4-1 Danger rating:*****

GEOFF HOON Chief Whip Although doggedly loyal in public, Labour circles are rife with gossip that Hoon is disenchanted with Brown's style.

They are said to have had tense relations during the 42-day revolt, when Hoon allegedly felt the PM was trying to micro-manage negotiations with rebels.

There is talk of the Chief Whip firing off a three-page memo later telling No 10 what it must do to improve its operation, though his aides deny it.

There is also gossip that Hoon himself was being undermined by a rival whip's office led by his deputy, ?ber-Brownite Nick Brown.

Hoon is adamant he will oppose any plot against Brown. Cynics say that's because he hopes to be made a European Commissioner.

Leadership odds: 33-1 Danger rating:****

DAVID MILIBAND Foreign Secretary The most senior Blairite in Cabinet is a reluctant assassin. Last year he famously declined to throw himself in front of Gordon Brown's leadership bandwagon.

When Tony Blair was asked why Miliband ducked the contest, the then-PM replied: "He is scared of what they would do to him." A year later, the 43-year-old is still the great white hope of Blairite diehards. Several Left-wingers back him,too, seeing the articulate moderniser as a young candidate who could cut David Cameron's gains. Although geeky, he has a gift for explaining complex policies.

Leadership odds: 5-2 Danger rating: ***

JAMES PURNELL Work and Pensions Secretary A rising star of just 38 who is often compared to a young Tony Blair.

His credibility was boosted by his recent welfare reform Green Paper, brilliantly spun to sound ultra-tough.

He has said he would not run against David Miliband ? which infuriates Brownites and raises the pressure on Miliband not to duck a second chance.

Many MPs see him leading them out of the wilderness in five to 10 years.

Leadership odds: 7-1 Danger rating: ***

HARRIET HARMAN Deputy Labour Leader Often under-estimated, the feisty Ms Harman should not be overlooked. …