'Sons of Blair' do battle with 'Sons of Brown' for Labour's leadership

Burnham joins the race as left-winger McDonell admits he is unlikely to win mass support
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Indy Politics

Another new Labour figure will join the race to succeed Gordon Brown today as calls grew for the party to rip up its timetable for electing a new leader.

Andy Burnham, the former health secretary, is the fifth candidate to enter the race. The 40-year-old is the fourth to come from a New Labour background, prompting complaints from activists that they are not being offered a genuine choice about Labour's future. The only left-wing candidate, John McDonnell, has admitted he is unlikely to attract enough support from fellow MPs to feature on the ballot paper.

Mr Burnham, who has been an MP for Leigh, Greater Manchester, since 2001, is associated with the Blairite wing of the party, having begun his career as a parliamentary private secretary to David Blunkett, the former home secretary. He joined the government in 2005, with the job of driving through Tony Blair's ill-fated plan to introduce identity cards.

Some in the party believed his delay in declaring may have been down to some of his supporters unexpectedly backing David Miliband, another Blairite figure. It had been rumoured that Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister, was in line to manage Mr Burnham's campaign. However, Ms Jowell has now declared her support for Mr Miliband.

Ed Balls, the former schools secretary and one of Gordon Brown's closest advisers, launched his leadership bid in the marginal constituency of Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, yesterday. In an interview last night, he seemed caught out by his closeness to Mr Brown. He said they had "definitely disagreed about a number of things" but struggled to think of any recent examples.

"I thought to raise expectations and then not have the election in 2007 was a mistake; I said that at the time. I thought the abolition of the 10p tax rate was a mistake and I told Gordon that at the time," he told the BBC's PM programme. "But I'm not going to spend my time looking backwards and criticising things Gordon did and didn't do. I supported him as leader.

"Me, and Ed [Miliband] and David Miliband, and all other members of the Cabinet worked very closely with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over that period of time and are proud to have done so." He also denied claims he was a bully. "I hate bullies," he said. "If you have a surname like mine, you know what bullying is about."

Last night, the party was considering demands for candidates to be given more time to raise the support of 33 MPs, which they need if they are to feature officially in the contest. MPs and activists had protested that next Thursday's 12.30pm deadline would stop candidates such as Mr McDonnell from running.

A change of heart now looks possible after Ed Miliband, the former climate change secretary and leadership contender, supported the demands. "MPs/members annoyed about short nominations timetable: I have to say I agree," he wrote on Twitter. "[We] need broadest possible choice and time for MPs to decide and consult."

Chuka Umunna, the newly elected MP for Streatham, said the new intake of Labour MPs needed longer to decide who to back. "MPs are the gatekeepers of the leadership contest shortlist and we – particularly new arrivals – need more than nine days to come to a properly considered decision," he said.

Labour's procedures committee will reconsider the curtailed nominations deadline at a further meeting today. The original timetable had been voted though by the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday. Members of the NEC were still angry last night that the party had been "profoundly and deliberately misled" in agreeing to next Thursday's deadline.

Mr McDonnell has now circulated a letter to the other candidates, asking them to join his campaign to lower the number of nominations needed and extend the time for candidates to throw their hat into the ring. He also criticised the race as being "totally unrepresentative of the party and our community" as all the contenders were white men.

Launching his own leadership bid, Mr McDonnell said the party needed to "reignite the moral basis of the Labour party" if it was to succeed.

"Members were encouraged when the Labour hierarchy invited a wide range of candidates to stand and they expected a long campaign with the chance to have their voices heard. Yet the old bureaucracy has reasserted itself and has demanded control by drastically limiting the nomination period. The ideas and visions that our movement represent can not be silenced."

Mr McDonnell, who failed to get enough nominations to challenge Mr Brown during the last leadership race, said that without another candidate, the vote would be "like a fight between the sons of Blair and the sons of Brown".