Yvette Cooper may lack some of Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall's momentum but she remains a formidable opponent in the Labour leadership contest. On the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Cooper was quizzed on how enthusiastic she is for the job, given her late entry to the contest:
‘I want to make sure that Labour leads and wins again and I think I’m the right person to do that because I think I can be the strongest in terms of taking on David Cameron. I also think I will set out ideas for the future that don’t just involve swallowing the Tory manifesto and set out a Labour vision for the future.’
On the latter point, Marr asked Cooper if she was referring to Liz Kendall, who in her straight-talking manner has suggested Labour should not be opposed to all Tory ideas on principle:
‘I think some of our colleagues in some of the discussions have been thinking that “well, ok because Labour lost the election therefore what we have to do is say that the Tories are right on things.” I don’t actually think this is about actually left and right because I think we have to grow in all directions. So we do have to win back people who vote Tory and win back people who voted Ukip but I don’t think that necessarily means just swallowing the Tory manifesto.’
And again when asked directly if this was Kendall she was referring to, Cooper said:
'I’m not going to get into attacking individual candidates because will really have to judge either of us — but I do think we should be setting out Labour ideas for the future and not just saying ”well the Tories are suddenly right on a whole series of things” because I don’t think they are.'
It's hard to see this as anything other than an attack on Kendall, and she also had time for another coded attack on the front runner, Andy Burnham. On the topic of benefits and whether she agrees with him that Labour should not side with against those who 'want something for nothing', Cooper was keen to distance herself from the tough language:
'I didn't hear the precise wording he used. The languge in some of the headlines was the wrong one. I think we should not stigmatise people...I think the important think is to talk about responsibility — responsibility to work, responsibility to contribute but not to stigmatise those who are unable to work perhaps they are too sick or too disabled to do so. Let's have a positive system with fair rules, strong rules and firm rules but also one that is responsible in the language we use.'
Cooper's performance was assured and calm but also highlighted her main weakness. Andrew Marr began by suggesting she's been criticised for not answering questions in a 'crunchy' and straightforward manner. Few of her answers above could be classified as crunchy — often diverging into meaningless platitudes about Labour solutions and Labour answers. Her two main rivals Burnham and Kendall have no problems speaking in a straightforward manner, something Cooper will need to address.
Given that many thought the race was a done deal, it seems that the excitement has finally arrived. It will be interesting to see if Kendall and Burnham fire back with their own coded, or non-coded, attacks about what Cooper has said today.
Latest odds for next Labour leader - via Ladbrokes: Andy Burnham: 10/11. Liz Kendall: 13/8. Yvette Cooper: 9/2. Mary Creagh: 50/1