Johnson keeps leadership option open

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Indy Politics

Alan Johnson will keep open his option of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership today, as Peter Hain, his rival for the deputy leadership, endorsed the Chancellor.

Mr Johnson, the Education Secretary, will enter the debate over Labour's future with a warning that the party must update its policies to win a fourth term. But he will insist there is no need for a fundamental "ideological" debate. He is to run for the deputy leadership and is considering whether to stand for the top job too - but will not declare his hand today.

Mr Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who launched his deputy leadership campaign at a TUC fringe meeting in Brighton yesterday, said Mr Brown was a "towering figure" who "will and should" win the Labour crown.

He pledged to give the Labour Party more influence over government policy through greater use of consultative green papers. He said Labour should concentrate on the environment "to make our government the green government", move ahead with the final stage of House of Lords reform, and embrace electoral reform.

Mr Hain said: "I think we can re-establish that radical progressive coalition we won in 1997, that we kind of kept together in 2001 but we lost large parts of last year."

In a speech to the Social Market Foundation today, Mr Johnson will put poverty at the top of his policy agenda, describing the goal of abolishing it as the "glue" that holds Labour together. The Education Secretary will say: "We must ensure that a unified party connects with the public for the next 10 years, in the way we connected over the past decade.

"There's no need to turn the clock back, cover old ground or seek refuge in entrenched positions. Similarly, we mustn't stymie debate, close down new ideas or hide in the past. We've never made it to a third term before, let alone renew in government."

Like Mr Hain, he will call on Labour to avoid the bitter infighting which engulfed it last week. Mr Johnson will say: "We must ensure that the self indulgence of what was literally macho politics does not escalate into self-destruction or self-mutilation. There must be no resort to personal attacks."

Other potential candidates for the deputy leadership include Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister, and Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons.