Harriet works on her social identity

harriet-harman.jpgIn the soporific contest for Deputy leader, Harriet Harman finds a neat way of locating her social identity. In contrast, Hilary Benn struggles with his. However, Benn appears to be a more likely winner.

The battle for Deputy leader to Gordon Brown’s Premiership has been something of a low-key affair. BBC does its best to to pimp it up. We take a social identity perspective on the contest.

John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy, is leaving office. In the run-up to the election of JP’s replacement, the BBC’s Nick Assinger points to bookmaker Coral’s misreading of the gender of one of the candidates

“All the money today has been for Hilary Benn to win the Deputy Leader job and we have been forced to slash her odds dramatically”, said Coral’s representative.

Her odds? Not for the first time, Hilary is presumed to be a female name. We can only speculate on any career damaging consequences of such gender rendering.

Assinger also picks up on Harriet Harman’s efforts to define herself. This is actually an interesting issue which indicates how Social Identity approach has much to offer in leadership research.

She told a campaign hustings that Gordon Brown was Radio 4 while she was Radio 2. Make what you will of that – but perhaps it’s John Humphrys to Jonathan Ross. Fit the names to the stations: Alan Johnson, working class boy made good; Peter Hain, smooth former anti-apartheid activist; Hazel Blears, pint-sized cheerleader; John Cruddas, former Blair aide turned voice of the people and Hilary Benn, “modern” son of New Labour’s bete noire.

Social identity tips for wannabe leaders

It is important for a wannabe leader such as Harriet to work at her social identity. The concept has to achieve consensus regarding its elegant appropriateness. Novelty, interest, and (trickier) authenticity are valuable ingredients. Symbolism and metaphors are well-tested rhetorical and creative devices.

Harriet seems to me to have hit on a promising approach for communicating the image that she would like to convey during her campaign. Her suggestion neatly differentiates and defines her, not only against the other candidates but also against the all-conquering Gordon Brown.

[Note for non-listeners to The Beeb: Radio 2 is a pop channel; Radio 4 is seriously elitist].

Straw polls

The contest has not been widely reported in the British news media. I have only seen one broadcast, catching a snippet from a public debate involving all six candidates. Hazel Blears came across as the only one with that little bit extra in presentation style. The other five all seemed less able (or willing) to present themselves in an engaging fashion. I suspect that her style will not be universally admired.

On reflection, the impact of Blears’ presentation, was again, like Harman’s impressive in presenting her social identity, differenting herself for her commitment to the cause and her struggle to overcome diasadvantages in early life.

What the bookies say

Most commentators had been predicting that Alan Johnson remains a front-runner in the contest. He has already succeeded in presenting his own rise from disadvantaged circumstances as an asset, and important part of his social identity. Blear’s story came across as fresh partly because it was less well-known (at least to the majority of viewers learning more about some of the candidates).

The bookmakers offer aother perspective.

According to Sporting Life [May 24th 2007]

Hilary Benn has regained favouritism for the race to become the next deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Bookmakers William Hill have cut his odds from 5/2 to 2/1, making him joint favourite with Alan Johnson, who is also a 2/1 chance.

“After drifting out in the betting immediately prior to the announcement of the six contenders for the contest, Hilary Benn is back in favour with political punters and after a string of three figure bets we have cut his odds to make him joint favourite with Alan Johnson,” said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Hazel Blears is the 3/1 third favourite while Jon Cruddas is available at 7/1, Harriet Harman 8/1 and Peter Hain the 16/1 outsider

Somehow I can’t see any candidate gaining much ground through a charismatic performance between now and voting time. The voting is a three-way split between MPs (including Euro MPs), Party members, and affiliated Unions. The result will be announced on June 21st, 2007.

8 Responses to Harriet works on her social identity

  1. Tudor,

    Did you design this article to have so many names starting with H, or is it an accident?


  2. Tudor says:


    Hm. A hint of happy happenchance.

    Have a nice day


  3. Ian Major Brewster says:

    I’m not sure your assertion that this contest is the battle for deputy leader “to Gordon Brown’s Premiership” is actually correct Tudor. It has since emerged that Brown is under no obligation to make the deputy leader his deputy prime minister (see yesterday’s Daily Telegraph) as he feels that most of the candidates running for deputy leader would not be appropriate for the role of Deputy PM. Therefore they would be deputy leader of the party, not to Gordon Brown’s Premiership. Alan Johnson is probably the only one who would get the Deputy PM role if he were to win. Otherwise Brown may parachute Jack Straw in as the new Deputy PM.

    Do you think this revelation undermines the leadership values of the whole contest?


  4. Tudor says:


    Great clarification. Yes, the whole issue came to attention when John Prescott went through a job appraisal quite recently. The current battle is for deputy party leader, and I’ll draw attention to it in this or subsequent post.

    This simplifies what the candidates are claiming thay are fighting for. But the tripartite voting system still applies. We just have to interpret the available evidence
    from a different perspective.

    Nothing is quite straight-forward, and the candidates may be more, or less, concerned with presenting themselves as a possible candidate for the top job as well. Closer inspection of their public performances is required. Did Gordon express any relevant views yesterday?



  5. Ian Major Brewster says:

    Gordon is staying tight-lipped on the subject as far as I know. But an unnamed minister is quoted as saying: “You have to have a lot of authority to have that role (deputy PM). It is not a role Gordon will hand over lightly. I think he might give it to Alan Johnson but I can’t see it going to any of the rest of them.”

  6. Tudor says:

    Nice call, Ian.
    Did you have inside info?
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6665325.stm seems to agree with you.
    It’s AJ, or maybe no-one at all. (So, sorry, Jack, you aren’t all right, it seems).

  7. Tudor says:

    Can’t resist reviewing this post, on learning of the results of the Leader and Deputy Leadership contests. Nice one Harriet. Shows how hard it is to predict a week ahead in politics..

  8. […] the bookies. Nothing particular in the curious Newsnight hustings. On the other hand, I had also noted her vivid metaphor, likening herself to radio two to Gordon Brown’s radio four, light and serious broadcasters […]

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