The race for the critical backroom post of Labour Chief Whip heated up yesterday with the emergence of rival candidates, both of whom - their supporters claim - enjoy Tony Blair's support as well as the confidence of the broad mass of Labour MPs.
From outside the Shadow Cabinet, Nick Brown, a health spokesman, is the early favour-ite, with Kevin Barron, an employment spokesman and former aide to Neil Kinnock, the outsider.
Both men hope to succeed Derek Foster, who retires as Chief Whip in October, having agreed to give up the post in return for the promise of a Cabinet job in a Labour government. At the same time, the direct elections for the post were abolished. Instead, Labour MPs agreed that the elected Shadow Cabinet would be expanded from 18 to 19, and that Mr Blair should appoint the Chief Whip from among its number.
Nick Brown did well in last year's Shadow Cabinet elections, when he was sixth runner-up at his first attempt, gaining 85 votes. He has been close to Mr Blair from the time of their selection as Labour candidates in the North-east in 1983.
Mr Barron has less chance of securing a cabinet place, not having stood before, but is respected by both "moderniser" and "traditionalist" MPs.
Calculations are complicated by the unpredictability of Shadow Cabinet elections, which suggests Mr Blair may have a member of his existing cabinet already marked out for the post.
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