UK Politics

Who is Yvette Cooper? Labour leadership contender guide

Yvette Cooper Image copyright AFP/Getty

Get to know the contenders vying to be the next leader of the Labour Party with our at-a-glance guides.

Name: Yvette Cooper

Age: 46

Background: Born in Inverness, she was brought up in Hampshire. Her father was general secretary of a professional trade union and her mother, a maths teacher, came from a mining family. Both were solidly Labour.

Ms Cooper, who wanted to be Doctor Who's assistant when she was younger, went to state schools, including Alton College, where she started off doing six A-level subjects. From there, she went to Balliol College, Oxford.

Family: Married to former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who lost his seat at the general election. They were the first married couple to serve as cabinet ministers at the same time. They have three children.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls - arriving at a Cabinet meeting in 2009 - were the first married couple to serve as ministers

She opted out of Labour's 2010 leadership contest - in which Mr Balls competed - with the explanation that: "I could be working for another 25 years and am only likely to be reading bedtime stories for another two or three years".

Job before politics: A former journalist with the Independent. Her first job, she revealed in a hustings debate, was driving a tractor.

Route into Parliament: The tried and tested path of philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) at Oxford, followed by a year at Harvard as a Kennedy scholar.

She worked on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in Arkansas in 1992, and also worked in the office of then Labour leader John Smith. During this time she shared a flat with Ed Miliband, the man she is hoping to replace as Labour leader.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Yvette Cooper worked on Bill Clinton's US presidential campaign in 1992

She also worked as an adviser to the current acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, during which time she took a year off work with ME, otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome. She has spoken of her reliance on welfare during this period, saying it convinced her that: "To talk about people being benefit scroungers or workshy shows no respect."

In April 1997, Ms Cooper won the Labour candidacy for the safe Yorkshire seat of Pontefract and Castleford.

Political pedigree: A couple of years after she was elected, Ms Cooper was made a junior health minister, at the age of 30 - the youngest at the time. She has gone on to build up a hefty parliamentary CV, with stints as the work and pensions secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury in the Labour government.

Image caption Yvette Cooper and Theresa May have often faced each other across the despatch box

After the 2010 election defeat, she got the most votes of any MP as Labour elected its shadow cabinet, and took on the role of shadow home secretary.

Her battle with Home Secretary Theresa May across the despatch box became one of the standout clashes of the last Parliament - could they be repeated ahead of the 2020 general election if Mrs May takes over from David Cameron?

Achievements: Says she is most proud of being the minister to roll out Sure Start sure children's centres across the country, and had a hand in a number of the Labour government's key policies. Was the first female chief secretary to the Treasury and the first minister to take maternity leave.

Controversies: As housing minister, she introduced one of Labour's less trumpeted projects, home information packs, which obliged house vendors to supply buyers with a whole range of documents. The packs, which critics said were unnecessary red tape, were scrapped by the coalition government.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Home information packs were scrapped by the coalition government

More recently, there was a row when Mrs Cooper's leadership team promoted on Twitter an article by Labour MP Helen Goodman backing her because she is a "working mum". The campaign for rival candidate Liz Kendall said it suggested a "paucity of intellectual argument" and that Ms Cooper's team would "know how it would be interpreted". Ms Cooper has since suggested there was sexism in the leadership contest, saying that "any talk about me being a working mum has been used as a sexist way to divide Liz and I and criticise Liz for not having children".

Policies: Increase the UK's investment in science and research development to 3% of national income. Labour should drop its opposition to the recent reduction in corporation tax to 20%. Free Scandinavian-style universal childcare. Britain to become the science and technology capital of Europe. Backs the benefit cap in principle, and thinks free schools are not good value for money.

Outside interests: Recently said the nearest she gets to a hobby is being a "taxi driver" to her three children.

Image copyright ALAMY

Last year Mr Balls revealed the family had taken part in a fancy dress Sound of Music tour, cycling around Austria wearing home-made outfits.

Cooper on why Labour lost: "Labour lost because we were too narrow - we didn't convince enough people in all parts of the country that we had answers to match up with their ambitions. That's what we need to change."

Cooper on how Labour can win: "We need to change, to broaden our appeal and win back voters from the Tories, the SNP and UKIP; to succeed in small towns as well as big cities, north and south, England, Scotland and Wales - and we need a progressive, modern Labour vision to do so, rooted in our values and optimistic about the future."

How she wants to seen: As the candidate with the most top-level government experience, capable of looking prime ministerial, uniting the party and preventing it from swinging to the left or right.

How others see her: "This slip of a girl raced up at party conference and said 'I'm Yvette' and when I thought of all the experience she had had, it seemed to be impossible that someone so young was that person." Harriet Harman, speaking in 2010, recalls meeting her

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Image caption Yvette Cooper - seen campaigning before May's election - used to work for Harriet Harman

"Cooper's refusal to spell out the differences between the party she envisages leading into the 2020 election and the one Ed Miliband led into the 2015 election is striking," Isabel Hardman, the Spectator

"It seems to me there is now only one way for the Labour Party to rescue something from the impending wreckage. And that is... for Labour's modernisers and centrists and pragmatists to unite around Yvette Cooper," Dan Hodges, the Daily Telegraph

"I think she's brilliant and people will have a chance to see more of what she is and what she stands for and what she can do in the coming weeks," Ed Balls

Who backed her: Shadow ministers including Chris Bryant, Shabana Mahmood and Vernon Coaker. Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz, She secured 59 nominations from MPs, second to Andy Burnham.

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