Could Liz Kendall reach out to Middle England voters?

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

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image captionLeicester West MP Liz Kendall is one of the favourites to be the next Labour leader

So could Leicester be the Midlands powerhouse to propel Liz Kendall to lead her party?

Certainly, according to the bookies, the hot money is backing the Kendall Labour bid.

She's now the second favourite just behind front runner Andy Burnham. Looking at the latest odds, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh seem to be trailing some distance behind.

I've been to her Leicester West constituency to find out the qualities that are making Liz Kendall the candidate to watch.

A local politician who knows her well is the assistant city mayor of Leicester Sarah Russell. She's also a member of Kendall's Leicester West constituency Labour Party.

"It's her real approachability," Councillor Russell told me.

"She's comfortable speaking to a group of businessmen as well as a room of four-year-olds or a coffee morning for older people.

image copyrightAFP
image captionLiz Kendall faces competition for the top job from Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh. Tristram Hunt is not in the running

"She's got that unique ability and those qualities in a leader are a very powerful asset."

People on Leicester's New Parks estate also need little prompting about their MP's qualities. I came across a succession of people who knew her or had been helped by her. That's also a powerful asset for any MP. It's that recognition factor.

But would those qualities be enough to transform Labour electoral prospects in seats like neighbouring Loughborough?

It was once a Labour seat during the Blair/Brown years but is now comfortably secured for the Tories by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

"I would be attracted to vote Labour with Liz Kendall," one young mother told me in Loughborough's market place.

"But it would depend on her policies, especially what she offers for the family."

Liz Kendall now has significant personal backing from Shadow Cabinet colleagues, who once had leadership ambitions, the latest being Chuka Umunna.

"She understands the challenge we face in those Middle England seats" said Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary.

"She also understands the challenge we face in historical Labour seats like mine in Stoke-on-Trent and the remarkable political change in Scotland."

So what's her background?

image copyrightPA
image captionLiz Kendall is well known in Leicester but could her popularity help elsewhere?

She was brought up in Watford and went to Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating with a first in history.

She was special adviser to the former Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Labour's current temporary leader Harriet Harman.

In 2010, Liz Kendall entered Parliament as the MP for Leicester West, the seat once held by Patricia Hewitt.

Under Ed Miliband, she was the shadow minister for care and older people.

So after that info-blast, here's a question for you: Name the last Leicester MP who became the leader of the Labour Party?

You have to go back almost 100 years to when Ramsay MacDonald represented Leicester in the House of Commons.

Her supporters probably won't welcome that reminder. To some Labour activists, he was, and is, a leader regarded as traitorous for going into coalition with Stanley Baldwin's Tories in the 1930s.

If there's a big political message from Liz Kendall, it's about shaping policies and priorities for future needs.

Historical baggage from Labour's past, whether from 100 years ago or more recently, isn't part of her agenda.

That makes Liz Kendall an interesting candidate to watch in this election and is why Leicester may provide a platform for the next Labour leader of the 21st Century.