Labour rivals go head to head in BBC Newsnight debate

Watch again: Newsnight's Labour leadership debate

The five candidates to be Labour's leader have clashed over Iraq, the role of the state and immigration in their first televised hustings.

Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and David and Ed Miliband were questioned on BBC Two's Newsnight.

The candidates are fighting for the votes of Labour and union members, having been nominated by MPs last week.

Government 'remote'

The winner of the contest will be announced at the party's annual conference in September.

The vacancy arose when Gordon Brown resigned last month, in the wake of Labour's defeat at the general election.

Among questions they faced were whether the state was "too centralised" - to which David and Ed Miliband answered "yes" but Ms Abbott replied "not necessarily". The rich and powerful were those who argued for a smaller state - while her constituents needed the state to protect them, she said.

Start Quote

It is an illusion for us to think that one moment with Mrs Duffy lost us the election”

End Quote Ed Miliband

But David Miliband said English local government outside London had not benefited from devolution: "It's not an accident that in the three southern regions of England outside London, Labour, our party, won ten seats out of 212. People felt government was remote."

And he said the state had got "too big" when Tony Blair's government tried to extend the pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects to 90 days - an issue that led to Mr Blair's first Commons defeat in 2005.

He conceded Labour was wrong to try to seek to detain terror suspects for that long.

Diane Abbott said she found it "quite tragic that we have conceded the civil liberties agenda to the Tories" - singling out ID cards and the DNA database for criticism.

Mr Balls argued that Gordon Brown's encounter with Gillian Duffy - the Rochdale pensioner he was recorded calling a "bigoted woman", showed Labour needed to reconnect with his core vote.

He said: "There was a moment in the election campaign, and I think Gordon would say this too, when he spoke to Mrs Duffy and it was the first time he'd spoken to somebody who said those things and he didn't recognise that she was speaking the language of thousands of Labour supporters all around the country who said tuition fees, housing, immigration too, were hurting their communities and their families and he didn't recognise that."

But Ms Abbott argued that people spoke about immigration as a "proxy for issues like housing and lack of jobs" and the idea it lost them the election "takes us nowhere". Ed Miliband agreed: "It is an illusion for us to think that one moment with Mrs Duffy lost us the election - that would be a profound mistake."

'Loss of trust'

However, Mr Burnham disagreed: "It was the biggest issue and if we don't look like that we are acknowledging that now then it will look like we wouldn't have listened to what people were saying."

On Iraq, Ed Miliband said it was "extremely damaging" and a "catastrophic loss of trust" - adding that at the time he felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time, but was not an MP then. Ms Abbott pointed out that she was the only one of the contenders to have marched and voted against the war.

But David Miliband said the idea Iraq had cost them the 2010 election "simply doesn't add up" and Mr Burnham said they should not try to "conveniently re-write the past" and should make the "principled" argument in favour of the war.

Mr Balls said that if he had been an MP he would have voted for the war because he would have believed the government's arguments.

The contenders have been setting out their ideas for the party at a succession of hustings events, which are due to continue over the next few weeks.

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