Labour's new leader and possible next UK Prime Minister, will be announced on the 25th of this month. The contest started from the moment Gordon Brown conceded defeat and stood down as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party after May's General Election gave the Conservatives the largest number of seats, though not a clear majority. There are five candidates standing: Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, David Miliband and his brother, Ed Miliband. These candidates offer those entitled to vote in this leadership election a broad outlook of opinion from the left, middle and right of the Labour movement and how the Party should progress from here.
Despite the brave talk from Labour politicians after the Election that the Conservatives, only weeks before if the polls were correct, should have won by a landslide, the results could not hide the fact that Labour were the real losers. It did not go unnoticed by the more thoughtful, that they really had lost in England, where, even in their northern industrial heartlands, though still retaining the seats, there were swings in very many constituencies to the Conservatives. This point might well have been a deciding factor in the decision by the Lib Dems to join the Conservatives in a coalition government as junior partners.
For Labour Party members asking themselves what had gone wrong, many believed that New Labour had moved too far to the centre and right and had abandoned its socialist principles and core voters. Others thought that these same caring, socialist values can be made to work under a "New Labour" programme but that the Party had not addressed the issues concerning the British public either well or sufficiently. Further, Labour had been less than forthright on needed welfare reforms and, more importantly, the size of Britain's deficit and how to tackle it.
Is Labour about to retreat to a pre-Blairite past and fall back on trade union support and the comfort zones of Wales, Scotland, parts of London and the industrial areas of the North? It is a legitimate constituency. When all is said and done, the Party was formed by and for the trade unions and their supporters. In a truly multi-party democracy such as the Lib Dems wish for, such a party would be a viable force and could look forward to the possibility of being part of a coalition government. In the meantime, under the British system, it must appeal to a broader church if it wishes to regain power.
Can New Labour emerge from defeat, lessons learned, with a credible plan to tackle the deficit and areas in need of reform, keep its core regions of support and broaden its appeal once more to the whole of the United Kingdom? That's the essence of this Labour Leadership contest.
Diane Abbott Did have a life before politics having been a race relations officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties (1978-80) and a researcher and reporter at both Thames Television and TV-am (1980-85) amongst other jobs.
MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, she is well to the left of centre. She spoke out strongly against the Second Iraq War, would abolish Trident and states that the proposed welfare cuts in particular, will hit the poorest, hardest - especially women.
Wanting to (re-) connect Labour much more firmly with the working class, her real problem in this contest, is that she has never had Front-Bench experience. This and the inability to develop a larger support base, will, sadly for Labour and this Leadership Election, see her eliminated most likely in the first ballot.
Ed Balls A teaching fellowship at Harvard (1989-90) and an economics leader-writer at the Financial Times (1990-94) Mr Balls is a real Labour heavyweight. A member of the Fabian Society, he was very influential in the forming of New Labour and its economic strategy. It has been reported that he is the person really responsible for making the Bank of England independent of the Government.
On leaving the Financial Times in 1994, he became a close advisor to Gordon Brown and the Treasury. Elected as MP for Normanton in 2005, he was made a junior Treasury minister in 2006, but had a less happy time after 2007 when he was appointed Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. At the 2010 General Election, he was elected by a majority of 1,100 as MP for Morley and Outwood.
Very much seen as a member of Gordon Brown's clique, he must have felt frustrated as the Prime Minister's and Government's popularity waned, though I cannot remember him ever being disloyal to his leader.
Aggressive, articulate and with a wealth of experience in economic matters he is certainly a potential leader who would take the fight to the Conservatives.
For all that, I think he will come a disappointing third in the first and any subsequent ballots. Yes, Ed, we all know what Keynes suggested about government spending and recessions but he also said a lot more and just what level of debt do you think the markets would tolerate? New Labour policies are fine and just need a little tweaking, just a small matter then that Ed Balls does not have a large fan base. There's always another time.
Andy Burnham Worked for various government departments as well as MPs Tessa Jowell and Chris Smith before being elected MP for Leigh, a safe Labour seat, in 2001. Once an MP, he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to David Blunkett and later to Ruth Kelly. Posts in the Home Office and Health followed before he became Chief Secretary to the Treasury (2007-08) Culture Secretary (2008-09) and finally Secretary of State for Health (2009-10).
Despite this CV, he like Diane Abbott, just secured nomination for the Leadership contest.
Mr Burnham is very much New Labour and makes no apologies. He sees no ideological problems with private/public partnerships. Nor is he sorry for the Second Iraq War which "gave 20 or so million people in Iraq hope of a better life and you just cannot walk away from that truth."
Not frightened to stand up for his Christian beliefs, Mr Burnham is a loyal colleague who played no part in any attempts to oust Gordon Brown.
He would come down hard on benefit cheats. Tough on crime, he rather famously had to apologise to Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti for inappropriate comments.
Making rather much of his working-class origins, I think he will be fighting Ms Abbott for the wooden spoon but should get a place in the Shadow Cabinet if David Miliband is elected Labour Leader.
And the main contender is: David Miliband
Oxford University and then, just down the road from Mr Balls' old haunt, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, David Miliband played a significant role in Labour political posts, being appointed Head of Policy for Tony Blair (1994-97). When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, he remained in this appointment but now within Downing Street. In 2001. David Miliband was "parachuted" into the safe Labour seat of South Shields. A number of Cabinet roles followed and it is generally agreed in Europe and America, that Mr Miliband was a highly successful and effective Foreign Secretary between 2007-2010.
Strongly suspected of tacitly agreeing to a coup to topple Gordon Brown, though not directly involved, David Miliband is seen as the natural successor, whether he likes it or not, to Tony Blair.
He has defended the decision to go to war in Iraq and stands firmly by Alistair Darling's proposed budget cuts in tackling the deficit and restoring Britain's economic health. His main problem with Conservative cuts is that they go too far, too soon. He also thinks that the ratio between spending cuts and tax increases should be closer to 2:1 than 4:1.
His problem is being seen as too Blairite and (therefore) not getting the losing candidates transfer votes under Labour's electoral system for the Party Leader.
The main challenger: Ed Miliband
It's Oxford and the LSE for younger brother Ed Miliband plus 12 years as a speechwriter, researcher and adviser, firstly to Harriet Harman in 1993 and then to Gordon Brown.
Elected to the safe Labour seat of Doncaster North in 2005, Ed Miliband became a junior Cabinet Office Minister in 2006 and lost the junior tag in 2007. In 2008, he was appointed Climate Change Secretary.
A close special adviser to Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband has worked in a wide range of policy areas. He is seen as being to the left of his older brother David and believes that New Labour has become flawed. Recently he stated that he was not really in favour of the war in Iraq - although some of his critcs can't remember him saying this at the time.
Ed Miliband has the strong endorsement of ex-Leader, Lord Kinnock.
Advocating a return to Labour's grassroots, his best chance of defeating his brother and winning the Leadership will be to unite the whole of the left wing behind him.
He will, if Leader, go on an offensive to break the Coalition Government and encourage disaffected Lib Dems to join with Labour.
An interesting contest deserving of more attention than it has managed to attract in the media so far, no doubt overshadowed by the Pope's visit and Strictly Come Dancing. Ed and Dave's Mum is not giving either brother her vote, according to last Saturday's Independent, that will be going to Diane Abbott.
Dennis Skinner's vote? Well, the notorious "Beast of Bolsover" is backing David Miliband. The Scotsman reported on 11 September 2010 that he believed the Shadow Foreign Secretary "was the candidate who would fare best against David Cameron". Apparently, Mr Skinner has posted on his website: "The big question is who are the Tories afraid of? Who is the best candidate to stand up against Cameron at the despatch box? Who has the best chance to beat Cameron in an election? For me, the best chance is David Miliband."
If he's good enough for Dennis....