Labour leadership: 'No sane person would want to be Leader of the Opposition' - Neil Kinnock issues health warning - and he should know

Former Labour leader advises anyone wanting a 'satisfactory decade in their 40s' not to apply to be Labour leader

Matt Dathan
Tuesday 18 August 2015 17:58
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Neil Kinnock welcomed Ed Miliband as Labour leader
Neil Kinnock welcomed Ed Miliband as Labour leader

No "sane" person would want to be Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock has warned in a health warning to the four candidates vying to replace Ed Miliband to lead the Labour party.

Lord Kinnock, who is well-placed to advise candidates having spent the best part of nine years as Leader of the Opposition and led Labour to two election defeats, said it was not a job for someone who wanted to live a "satisfactory decade in their 40s".

He then went on to list a long list of qualities required to deal with the "constant experience of pressure" that comes with the job of Leader of the Opposition.

Labour leadership hopefuls: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall

"They need to be cool strategists, they need to be assertive polemicists, they need to raise spirits from time to time, they need to moderate hopes continually, they need to be Stakhanovite workers and effective executive managers," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One show.

Lord Kinnock has backed Andy Burnham in the leadership contest. The backing of Labour's most experienced leader in opposition could prove significant as those eligible to vote in the election begin to return their ballot papers, which began to be sent out last week.

The contest has turned increasingly nasty, however, with the infighting becoming increasingly acriminious. Mr Burnham and Yvette Cooper, who are both trying to position themselves as the best-placed candidate to beat front-runner Jeremy Corbyn, have started to trade blows in public.

Ms Cooper challenged Mr Burnham to pull out of the Labour leadership contest, accusing him of being too similar to Mr Corbyn. But Mr Burnham's camp hit back, describing Ms Cooper's suggestion as a "panicked, desperate stunt".

However listening to Lord Kinnock, it is a wonder why either of them would want the job. Asked whether the Leader of the Opposition was a job that anybody should want, Lord Kinnock said: "Certainly not. Certainly no sane person because of the evident pressures and some of the disguised, intense pressures so that anyone who wants a satisfactory decade in their 40s, as I would have liked to have had, is well advised to stay clear.

"The pressures come from every possible point of the 360 degree compass; they come manifestly from your opponents and the other side of the House; they come from behind you from your own party; they come from the press; they come from the general public; they come from, as [Harold] Macmillan would say 'events dear boy' - some foreseeable and some completely unforeseen and unforeseeable.

Explaining the qualities needed to be a Leader of the Opposition, Lord Kinnock added: "It's a constant experience of pressure, which is why leaders of the Opposition need a particular assembly of qualities: they need to be cool strategists, they need to be assertive polemicists, they need to raise spirits from time to time, they need to moderate hopes continually, they need to be Stakhanovite workers and effective executive managers.

"That's a fair mixture to ask of any individual and I think most leaders of the Opposition would say they had all of that some of time and some of it all the time but they would never tell you what the mix was."

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