As most readers of this blog will know, the Labour leadership is decided by an electoral college made up of MPs, party members and levy-paying members of trade unionists affiliated to the Labour party. A YouGov poll in Monday’s Telegraph polls two of those three groups – party members and trade unionists and suggests that Gordon Brown would beat David Miliband even if he did run, and that Hilary Benn leads in the race for the deputy leadership.

Trade Unionists are the more hostile towards Blair – 40% think he should resign immediately compared to 26% of party members (a large majoirty of both groups think he should be gone by just after the May elections. Around 10% of both groups think he should change his mind and not resign after all).

A large majority of both party members (69%) and trade unionists (75%) would prefer there to be a contested leadership election, rather than a coronation. However, they are less certain that David Miliband, the media’s current candidate to be the anti-Gordon, is the man to do it. Party members are pretty much evenly divided on whether they would like Miliband to stand – 38% say yes, 42% no. A slight plurality of trade unionists (40% to 31%) would like Miliband to stand.

If Miliband did stand then, at present, it looks as though Gordon Brown would still easily win. Amongst party members 69% would vote for Brown to 20% for Miliband, 8% for John McDonnell and 3% for Michael Meacher. In a straight fight between Brown and Miliband Brown would win 70% to 30%. Amongst trade unionists the two left-wing candidates have more support, but Brown remains the runaway leader – Brown 63%, Miliband 15%, Meacher 13%, McDonnell 10% – in a straight fight it would be 64% to 36%.

Of course, we are a long way from an actual leadership election and David Miliband is still largely an unknown figure – YouGov polls of Conservative party members in September 2005 showed David Cameron trailing David Davis and Ken Clarke. These polls can’t predict how a relatively obscure figure like David Miliband might fare in an actual leadership election once he’s had the chance to bask in the media spotlight – they can only tell the baseline and, as it is, it’s not that bad – certainly if Miliband did challenge Brown it looks as though he would escape the sort of humiliation that Tony Benn suffered against Kinnock in 1988 and Bryan Gould suffered in 1992 against John Smith.

Meanwhile, there certainly will be an election for the deputy leadership and the YouGov poll suggests that Hilary Benn is the strong frontrunner amongst both party members and trade unionists. Amongst party members Benn leads with 36% followed by Alan Johnson on 22%, Harriet Harman on 13%, Peter Hain on 12%, Jon Cruddas on 9% and Hazel Blears on 7%. The picture amongst trade unionists isn’t that different – the main contrast is stronger support for Harriet Harman – Benn 34%, Johnson 20%, Harman 18%, Hain 12%, Cruddas 9%, Blears 7%.

Despite the low levels of support for Jon Cruddas, there was strong support for the idea of a deputy leader who was a “voice of the party”, rather than a leading cabinet minister – 60% of party members and 59% of trade unionists liked this idea, so if Cruddas can get over the problem of his low recognition and profile, he could yet build on his support. That aside, Hilary Benn does seem to have a good early lead – but once again, it is very early in the race.

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