Saturday, 23 May 2009

In like Flint?

There has been much talk in recent weeks as to who might replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader, either before or after the next general election. As usual, names like Alan Johnson, Ed Balls, David Milliband and Harriet Harman have been bandied about, but I would like to toss a new one into the ring - Caroline Flint.

Flint, 47 and MP for Don Valley, was elected with the New Labour intake in '97. She's steadily climbed the government ladder, serving as a PPS at the DTI and Foreign Office under Peter Hain and also under John Reid when he was Leader of the Commons. She then moved to the Department of Health, first as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, then as Minister for Public Health. In 2007 she became Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, then just seven months later, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, which saw her attending Cabinet for the first time. Last October she became Minister of State for Europe, another post which sees her attend Cabinet on regular basis.

There's a broad consensus that there will be some kind of government reshuffle after next month's elections and Flint's career trajectory so far will surely see her take her first full Cabinet post. This will be all the more likely if Brown ditches embattled Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith. He'll want to bring another woman in to help make up the numbers and who better than Flint, who is practically a de facto Cabinet member already? It also helps that she's already emerged relatively unscathed by the expenses scandal.

From there Flint would be perfectly situated to attract support for a dark-horse leadership bid. Unlike most of the likely contenders, she isn't encumbered by factional Blairite/Brownite baggage, having risen under both regimes, and could emerge as a popular compromise candidate. She would also satisfy those who feel it's time Labour had a female leader, but realise Harman would prove unpopular with the public.

Timing is everything of course and if Brown goes to the country early she would be in no position to angle for the leadership, but assuming Labour is defeated she would almost certainly be in the shadow cabinet and would still be young enough to mount a challenge in four or five years time.

Whatever happens in the months ahead, the future looks bright for Flint and at 66-1 to take over from Brown, is surely worth a punt.

No comments: