Magazine article The Spectator

Is This Labour's Next Leader?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is This Labour's Next Leader?

Article excerpt

In Yvette Cooper's home, an entire room is given over to memorabilia of her husband's life in politics. Pictures of Ed Balls hang on the walls and the room is kitted out with phone lines and computers so it can function as a nerve-centre for the shadow chancellor while he is working from home.

Cooper's office is a snug under the stairs. Anyone visiting might imagine that this was the home of a great political genius, dutifully supported by a mother of three. There is no indication that this impish, unassuming woman is herself now the bookmakers' favourite to lead Labour into the next election.

With Ed Miliband's ratings down to a level from which no opposition leader has ever recovered, even the trade unionists who voted him in are beginning to give up hope.

Attention is turning to the question of who Labour might have in reserve. Possible candidates include Chuka Umunna, the modish, shaven-headed MP for Streatham, and Dan Jarvis, the rather dashing MP for Barnsley, who is a former Paratrooper with an MBE.

The ex-chancellor Alistair Darling is being spoken of as a caretaker candidate, who might be asked to tackle Alex Salmond, then save the Labour party as an encore. David Miliband, gor bless him, has still not given up hope. But for a variety of reasons, Cooper is seen as the candidate to beat.

Even her ferociously ambitious husband seems to agree. When asked last September if he still wanted to lead his party, Balls replied simply 'no'. When he was then asked if he would back Cooper if she stood, he said: 'Of course.' Some saw this as the shadow chancellor preparing to stand aside for his wife.

Others say that Cooper knows her husband has coveted the top job most of his life, and would never thwart his ambition. But not so long ago, it was said that Ed Miliband would never do such a thing to his brother. And doesn't Labour believe that the wives of powerful men can indeed have it all?

There are rumours that, just as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown struck a power-sharing deal at the Granita restaurant in Westminster, so Cooper and Balls did the same before the last Labour leadership contest - at a motorway service station where they had stopped for coffee en route to London from their Yorkshire constituencies. She decided that she should not run, and he should. Asked about this 'Costa Coffee pact', Cooper laughs and says only: 'I'm a tea drinker.'

But if Balls decided not to stand this time in some sort of reciprocal arrangement in favour of his wife, her problems would not end there. 'The difficulty for Yvette is that she would be seen as a puppet, ' says one party insider who knows the couple well. 'Whatever Ed was doing in a shadow cabinet led by Yvette, he would be seen as the power behind the throne. And that is a major problem for her. That is the thing that would stop her being elected.' Friends say Cooper, 42, lacks the moth-to-the-flame ambition of her husband. As a child, far from reading Hansard under the bedcovers, she dreamt of being a tap dancer. (The couple are now jive enthusiasts, and can break into a snazzy dance routine at parties. ) Unlike her privately educated husband, Cooper is from solid Labour stock. Her father, Tony, was general secretary of a trade union, the Engineers' and Managers' Association, and her mother, a maths teacher, came from a mining family. She was born in Inverness, brought up in Hampshire and educated at state schools, including Alton College, where she studied for six A-levels while starring in the school production of Romeo and Juliet. She read philosophy, politics and economics at Balliol college, Oxford, graduating with a first, then spent a year at Harvard as a Kennedy scholar before returning to Britain to join the office of the then shadow chancellor, John Smith.

While working in Westminster she shared a flat with another young Labour researcher, Ed Miliband, whom she had met at Oxford. A stint working on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in Arkansas in 1992 completed her impeccable New Labourite credentials. …

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