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The Leadership Elections

Labour Chair, Laurie South, gives details about the Leadership election and goes on to discuss some of the issues as briefly as possible, trying to identify how we got here.

This blog gives a number of details about the Leadership election and goes on to discuss some of the issues as briefly as possible, trying to identify where and why problems have arisen. Inevitably some members will try and read into this discussion support for one side or the other and label it right-wing or left-wing. That would certainly be a misreading of the discussions held by the Executive Committee(EC): the EC have tried to adhere to the fact that there is a constitution which states that there is a One Member One Vote system and it is for the members to decide, and all individual members have their own views.

Rather the paper is intended to show that we have made major changes in the democratisation of the Party while at the same time expanding the Party enormously. Almost inevitably these two changes have led to unforeseen situations and disputes, so there is more thinking to be done.

This paper is an attempt to say that we are where we are and now need to get through the Leadership Election without acrimony or splits in the Party. We then need to identify where difficulties have arisen and put processes in place which enable us to resolve situations that arise in a democratic and collaborative way. To do otherwise would be to fail the millions of people who stand to gain a better and more equitable life under a Labour local and national government.

A brief history: how did we get where we are now

From 1900 until 1922 Labour MPs had a chairman who appeared to have “emerged”. The title Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party came about in 1922 when the first ballot was held but only Labour MPs were eligible to vote. In 1983 an electoral college to vote for a leader was created, a legacy of Michael Foot. Under this system Trade Unions and Socialist Societies had a 40 per cent vote, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) had a 30 per cent vote and Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) had a 30 per cent vote. Each CLP decided in whatever way it saw fit how it would cast its vote. There were a variety of practices followed from decisions made by the chair, Executive Committee meetings, votes at a meeting or full balloting members.

In 1993 the electoral college was modified so that the Trade Unions, PLPs and CLPs had an equal third share in determining the Leader. Instead of each CLP deciding how to cast its vote in whatever way it saw fit, each member in each CLP had a vote. CLP votes were counted at national level and the electoral college, CLP section, voted in accordance with the broad allocation to each candidate. Under this electoral college system some members, i.e. those who were trade union members, MPs and CLP members, had 3 votes, others had 2 votes, and others, i.e. a CLP member not in an affiliated trade union, only one. Under this system Ed Miliband secured a very strong trade union vote but a smaller CLP vote than David Miliband. He became Leader because of the weight of trade union votes.

A true “One Member One Vote” (often called OMOV) system was only introduced in 2015. It came at a time when the Leader, Ed Miliband, was trying to reduce the influence of the affiliated trade unions, and create a larger and wider Labour Party membership. This is when the Registered Supporter and Registered Affiliate members appeared for the first time. It was hoped that they would link into CLPs and convert from Registered Supporters or Registered Affiliates to full Labour Party Members taking part in policy making at local and national level, campaigning and fund-raising.


It has always been the case that a challenge could be mounted on the incumbent leader and it is recognised that this is extremely important in a democratic party. Over the years there have been a number of such challenges through the PLP (e.g. Tony Benn challenged Neil Kinnock who was then Leader). The present challenge is the first under the “One Member One Vote” system which is what makes it different from previous challenges. It is argued that the requirements for a challenge, 20 per cent of the PLP (and MEPs) pre-dates the OMOV system, exceeds the powers of MPs under OMOV, and defies the membership that voted overwhelmingly for the present Leader. Some of those holding this view make a strong case that the PLP should have remained united behind the elected Leader, particularly at this historic juncture. On the other hand, the PLP could argue that it has a national role as either the government or the opposition. To undertake these wider national roles, the post of Leader needs the support of MPs and so the MPs need a vehicle through which to challenge the Leader if they are not confident that the Leader is providing the right leadership to the PLP.

If the PLP did not have the power to challenge a Leader, there would be, at present, no other mechanism through which to make a challenge to the Leader and, in theory, the leadership of the Labour Party could be at the disposal of the Leader no matter how the Leader behaved. This is clearly a very unsatisfactory state of affairs in a democratic party. There needs to be a process by which a Leader can be challenged. The question is in what circumstances, how and by whom.

The current system of leadership election is only one-year-old. Most of the Labour MPs were elected in a period when they had a 33 per cent stake in electing a Leader. They will be looking for particular leadership skills and abilities from someone with whom they work closely on a day to day basis. The membership, on the other hand, may be looking for a Leader who embodies and inspires the values that attracted them to join the Labour Party. As things stand, the two requirements may differ particularly when the Party is in government. There should be less of an issue in opposition though there will be diverse views on specific issues.

A vital consideration is actually winning elections. Inspiring the Party is one thing, actually getting elected to power so that the values can be translated into implementable policies is another. In an era in which the leaders of political parties are afforded an almost presidential status, love it or hate it, that leader has to have a wider appeal to the electorate. No matter how hard members work in their constituencies, if the leader does not inspire credibility and trust in the wider electorate, power though the ballot box will elude the Party.

It is also important to remember that we have an elected National Executive Committee (NEC) entrusted with ensuring the Party’s aspirations are met. One of its tasks is to ensure that no group, whether from the right or the left, tries to usurp the Party’s constitution. It could well be argued that the NEC mirrors the old tripartite division of Trade Union, CLP and PLP that underpinned the electoral college system, and the Party is now very different. But it is the NEC we elected according to the constitution that we all work to at the moment.

So what next?

We are in a period of transition when major changes have taken place in how a Leader is elected and in the democratisation of the Party. This may make some of the powers, checks and balances from a different era appear inappropriate. It may also be that important changes appropriate to increased democratisation have been overlooked: the system may not be right rather than the people operating within it wrong. It has been noted that there is currently no other method of challenging a Leader than the PLP route. We have also seen a major increase in the membership. Eighty per cent of the membership in Kingston and Surbiton have been members for 14 months or less, and this is probably true across all CLPs. Times have been so turbulent that interaction with new members has, in a new age of mass party membership, not been all it could.

It is therefore vital that we do not allow ourselves to be lured into condemning each other, finding conspiracies under every action or rushing into demands for changes which might have unexpected consequences. After these elections we will need a careful period of discussion and consideration to determine what further changes are needed to extend democracy and accountability in the Party. We will also need to consider the longer term relationship with trade unions, which has been a vital springboard for the Labour Party in the past. How does the role of Trade Unions in the Party sit alongside a much wider membership in the CLPs and increased member democracy?

For the present every member who joined up to 12th January 2016 has a single transferable vote to cast for the candidate they think will best lead the PLP, inspire members and win power through the ballot box.

So how does the election for a Leader work?

1. The NEC has decided:There will be a freeze on membership eligibility to vote so that only members joining before 12th January 2016 will be able to vote. There has been a rush to join over the last month with very little membership change between January and June 2016. The NEC therefore argued that it had a duty to ensure that voting members were committed to the values and aspirations of the Labour Party. Others may take a different view and argue that simply by joining a member is showing that commitment to Labour Party aims and values and should be empowered to vote immediately. That is a debate for later.

2. CLP meetings would not take place during the election period (which has been standard practice in respect of other local and national elections) except where there was urgent business connected with elections other than the Leadership and any Party Conference business. CLPs are allowed to hold “supporting nominating meetings” for the Leadership elections but they must be held under strict conditions including a 30-minute time-frame: 3 minutes per speaker restrictions: screening of all present to ensure that only those eligible to vote do so: and secret ballots with a teller representing each candidate at the count.

3. The incumbent Leader will be on the ballot paper for Leadership automatically and all challengers will have to have 20 per cent of the PLP and MEPs nominating them.

So here is the timeline

(i)            All full members who joined the Party prior to 12th January 2016 will have a single transferable vote.

(ii)          All affiliated members will have a vote so long as they are registered as affiliated members and joined their affiliated Trade Union or Affiliated Organisation before 12th January 2016.

(iii)         All Registered Supporters who paid £3 for membership had an opportunity to pay a £25 registration to become Registered Supporters with Leadership Election voting rights. Those who became members after 12th January 2016 could have become Registered Supporters with Leadership Election voting rights had they paid an extra £25

(iv)         The window for Registered Supporters to opt to pay an extra £25 to enable them to vote in the Leadership Election ran from 5pm on Monday 18 July to 5pm on Wednesday 20 July. Link here

(v)          Monday 18 July at 7pm — Nominations for Leadership challengers open (MPs and MEPs)

(vi)         Thursday 21 July at Noon — Nominations for leadership challengers closes

(vii)        Friday 22 July — Hustings period begins for nominated candidates

(viii)      At present the way things stand, Kingston & Surbiton CLP will not be holding a supporting nomination meeting because the restrictions imposed by the NEC are too bureaucratic, a vote will represent the views of the people who attended the meeting but has no binding force on any member, each of whom has a single transferable vote

(ix)         Monday 8 August at Noon — Members must be fully paid up and in compliance to be eligible to vote. If you have lapsed in your Party subscription you will be ineligible to vote

(x)          Week beginning Monday 22 August — Ballots packs will begin to be despatched (you'll receive yours in the fortnight following)

(xi)         Wednesday 14 September — last date to request a reissue of your ballot paper

(xii)        Wednesday 21 September at Noon — Ballot closes

(xiii)      Saturday 24 September — Special conference to announce result

Laurie South

Labour Chair

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