Tim Saunders


Grayling London, Victoria

Following the Summer of Discontent, increasingly strained relations with the unions, and falling personal poll ratings, Ed Miliband’s leadership has been the subject of not-so-quiet debate within the Labour party as conference approaches. It’s unlikely that Ed will step down any time soon, but if the unthinkable happened, who might step in to fill his shoes? Grayling’s analysis of social media activity gives some very interesting insights into which one of the current top five candidates stands the best chance of securing the top job.

The Big Five

The five names currently tipped for the Labour leadership include Ed’s self-exiled brother David; heavy hitter Ed Balls; young upstart Chuka Umunna; the straight-talking Jim Murphy; and bookie’s favourite Yvette Cooper.

Click here for more insight into how the Labour leader candidates compare online. (PDF, 2.0mb)

Ed Balls – does profile equal power?

A candidate with a good amount of social media heft behind him is current shadow chancellor Ed Balls. An engaging tweeter who’s not afraid to use a bit of humour (he tweets about everything from George Osborne’s economic policies to the best way to season barbeque pork), Ed even created an annually celebrated “Ed Balls” day after an accidental tweet of his own name went viral. Of the five candidates, he has the second most Twitter followers and although he does not have a Facebook page, he is mentioned more online than all of the other candidates put together.

So a lot of people are talking about Ed online, but do any of these people like him? Our analysis shows that he has the least positive write-up of all the candidates (although the margins are very small indeed). Ed’s popularity with Labour members has been severely tarred by the Brown brush, with much of the party currently seeing him as damaging the party’s chances of winning at the next election. And then there’s the minor issue that another frontrunner happens to be his wife…

Could he be a contender? Probably not. Despite being a big name, Ed is tainted. He’s more likely to give way to his more popular wife Yvette in order to avoid the Milidrama of the last Labour leadership election.

Chuka Umunna – style over substance?

Young, ambitious and snappily-dressed Chuka has a lot going for him – except, apparently, MPs that like him. Our analysis shows that he provoked the most negative comment online and it’s easy to see why. The Conservatives see him as a major threat on the horizon and are rumoured to be behind the assortment of recent damaging stories about him – including snobbish comments he made about London’s nightclubs being “full of trash” and claims that he edited his own Wikipedia page to brand himself as Britain’s answer to Obama. His initial meteoric rise did not make him massively popular with envious MPs in his own party either.

And then there’s the accusation that he’s an opportunist who doesn’t really stand for anything. Chuka has had some difficulty defining himself due to taking a shadow cabinet position so early – as such, no one really knows what his views are, while most of his rather dry tweets relate to his BIS brief.

Could he be a contender? Maybe. Chuka is yet to prove whether there is some substance behind that snappy image. Perhaps he needs more time to ingratiate himself with the party and develop a clear narrative for the leadership.

Jim Murphy – the fifth man

Scottish MP Jim Murphy struggles along in fifth place for most measures (except Facebook likes, where he is third). His shoot-from-the-hip approach is reflected in his punchy, humorous tweets and has made him popular within the Labour party. He’s certainly a competent media performer and not one to mince his words (just this month he has called Lib Dem party president Tim Farron a “sanctimonious little plotter” and hurled expletives at Michael Gove after the debate over Syria).

However, as our analysis shows, Jim doesn’t appear to have the online profile to be competing with the big players just yet.

Could he be a contender? Perhaps one to watch – although Jim isn’t a big name, he’s got fight, humour and friends on his side.

David Miliband – it’s just not practical

The most high-profile of the lot is of course David Miliband, who leads the way in terms of Twitter followers and Facebook likes. However, there are some obvious reasons why a return to power at this stage would be difficult for David. It’s frankly unrealistic to conceive of him quitting his new job as head of the International Rescue Committee so soon and going through the rigmarole of winning a by-election – for a leadership bid that would be far from assured.

The idea of another Miliband might be a little too much to swallow for the party and public alike, and David’s social media profile now has a heavy focus on international issues – he simply isn’t well positioned to return to domestic politics just yet.

Could he be a contender? Not at the moment. David’s put some distance between himself and the Labour Party – around 5,000km in fact. It’s just too much of a stretch to imagine him back in Parliament any time soon.

Yvette Cooper – can she break the glass ceiling?

The bookie’s favourite Yvette Cooper seems to keep a low online profile. In terms of social media authority she’s quiet – behind David Miliband, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna in terms of Twitter followers. And she only just overtakes Chuka when we look at online mentions. Indeed, the one thing that might hold Yvette back is her reserve. She has been coy when questioned about the leadership, taking a softly softly approach by reaching out to party activists at regional fundraisers.

However, when people do comment about Yvette, they often have something nice to say – she is very well-liked, coming out far in the lead in our analysis of online sentiment. This is reflected in her popularity within the party – Yvette came top in the Shadow Cabinet elections among MPs before Ed Miliband abolished them. Her “tough on crime” credentials are also likely to go down very well with voters. Most of her tweets cover her women and equality brief – so is Yvette looking to break the glass ceiling to become the first female Labour leader?

Could she be a contender? Yes. She may keep a lower online profile than some of the others, but she’s popular, competent, and well positioned for the top job. Our bet’s on Yvette.


By Tim Saunders