Letter: Methods for electing a successor to John Smith

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The Independent Online
Sir: Following John Smith's death last Thursday, there is already intense speculation that the Labour Party's unity will be riven by the contest for the succession. This need not be so.

The succession contest is, in effect, a national primary. As well as MPs, the electorate for choosing Smith's successor embraces ordinary Labour Party members and trade union political levy-payers throughout the country. And while they will wield the votes, their choice will be influenced by the reactions of their friends at home or colleagues at work who do not possess a vote.

The BBC, Independent Television, BSkyB, national and local radio and newspapers should offer time or space to the contestants to set out their vision for the future of Britain, as well as the future of the Labour Party. In particular, there should be proper televised debates between the candidates, not the structured artificial question-and-answer type of the US presidential 'debates' but real free-wheeling, cut-and-thrust exchanges.

The best tribute the media could pay to the patriotism and statesmanship they found in John Smith would be to advise the Labour Party that once the European elections were over their facilities would be made available for such a debate. It would then be up to the candidates themselves to prove or disprove the thesis that a leadership contest automatically entails the reopening of old wounds so carefully healed by John Smith.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN ROBERTS

Edinburgh

13 May

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