2020 02 Editorial – The Route To Labour’s Leader

The Route To Labour’s Leader

At the time of writing (end of January) Labour’s leadership contest was at a very early stage of a long drawn-out process that will end on 2 April, with the result announced two days later. Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long Bailey have made it onto the final list from which party members will elect the leader. Emily Thornberry on the other hand may fail to get the required nominations before the deadline of 14 February. Opinion polls of members show Keir Starmer with a strong lead over his rivals, but there is a long way to go and there may be “many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip” between now and the voting deadline.

While all this is happening Labour is struggling to find its role as the main opposition to the Tories. With a weakened Jeremy Corbyn continuing to hold the reins and Boris Johnson brandishing an 80 strong Tory majority Westminster politics appears to be in a limbo-like state. If it was the Tories simple Brexit message- “Get Brexit Done”- that broke the red wall in the midlands and north of England, then for Labour to have any chance of forming a government, it must abandon all thoughts of the UK regaining EU membership. The new leader’s clear message must be a determination to make Brexit a success: a Labour influenced Brexit.

If Johnson fails to negotiate a deal with the EU before his set-in-concrete deadline of 31 December, with no extension of the transition period, the inevitable no deal departure could have a devastating effect on the UK economy and in particular on the communities he won over on 12 December. In June 2016 many leave voters were prepared to accept some economic set back in exchange for the perceived freedom of leaving the EU. Of feeling being English, rather than a statutory European. Johnson has succeeded in making the English feel English again, but how will this play against the loss of thousands of jobs in their constituencies which business leaders have forecast in the event of a no deal?

Keir Starmer may be in the comfortable position of currently holding a clear lead among party members, but he stands accused of being the architect of Labour’s Brexit policy which seriously damaged the party’s electoral prospects. His belief that Labour must leave all that behind and get on with the job of challenging the Tories suggests he is aware of his blunder, but his determined push for a second referendum could work against him in the coming weeks of the campaign. Unless, of course, the members have also put it all behind them and want a fresh start.

Lisa Nandy is the (largely) unknown candidate in the race, not being seen as aligned to any party faction, although she is referred to as of the “soft left”. Rebecca Long-Bailey on the other hand is described as the Corbyn continuity candidate. Although she was the choice of Momentum in a bizarre poll of members – a Yes or No answer was requested to the question: should Rebecca Long-Bailey be Momentum’s preferred leadership candidate?- her campaign could suffer at the hands of a media hostile to the so-called “hard left”. Unlike the Tories, Labour has never had a female leader. In the 1960s/70s, the formidable Barbara Castle was up against Prime Minister Harold Wilson and her nemesis Jim Callaghan, who assumed the Premiership when Wilson resigned in 1976.

Labour Affairs will have more to say about the leadership election in the next issue, but at this point the question that could be asked is, does it really matter who becomes the next Labour leader if Johnson’s Brexit negotiations are successful and the Tories’ economic policies begin to have a beneficial effect on the lives of voters in the midlands and the north? Johnson claims he is hell bent on delivering on his promises to the new Tory voters. So given a noticeable success in those regions the Tories could be in government for a decade or more. This is the dilemma that Labour faces.

Politics is a dirty business. Johnson and his Svengali-like sidekick Dominic Cummings caught on to this, and was one reason why they were successful. The new leader must be willing to play a dirty, rough game. There is no room for nice people at the top, as Corbyn showed. But which of the candidates will show they have the guts to facedown Johnson and the Tories? The next six weeks or so will hopefully show just who ticks all the boxes.


A brief history and description of Labour’s methods of electing the party leader.

Although in the final analysis party members elect the leader, the current system of nomination and selection  is complex and convoluted, in sharp contrast to the previous less complex methods; of election by MPs (members of the Parliamentary Labour Party) and later an electoral college.

In 1981 Labour replaced its long-standing system of electing the party leader by MPs with an electoral college. Under this system a three-way electoral college chose the leader, with one-third weight given to the votes of the Parliamentary Labour Party (Labour members of the House of Commons and members of the European Parliament), one-third to individual party members, and one-third to the trade union and affiliated societies sections.

Following the adoption of the Collins Report by Labour’s conference in 2014, (Ed Miliband was party leader at the time), the electoral college was replaced by a “one member, one vote” (OMOV) system, using the Alternative Vote method of election. This voting method was used in the leadership election of 2015 which saw Jeremy Corbyn elected for the first time with 59.5% of the total vote on a turnout of 76.3%. His three opponents polled 40.5% between them. The one member one vote system was used again in 2016 when a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership was launched following resignations from the Shadow Cabinet and a vote of no confidence in his leadership. On that occasion Corbyn increased his share of the vote to 61.8% on a turnout of 77.6%. His only opponent Owen Smith received 38.2% of the vote.

The current (2019) leadership election will again be conducted under the “one member, one vote” system, using the alternative vote method. As in 2016, the candidates will be elected by members and registered and affiliated supporters, with a maximum of one vote and all votes will be weighted equally. This means that members of Labour-affiliated trade unions and other affiliated societies need to register as affiliated Labour supporters to vote. Full party members who joined before 20 December 2019 are eligible to vote.

Candidates themselves needed to be nominated by at least 10% (previously 15%) of the combined membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP), meaning 22 MPs and MEPs. They also needed to be nominated by at least 5% of CLPs (at least 33 CLPs), or at least three party affiliates that consist of at least 5% of affiliate members, including at least two trade unions.

The timetable was set by Labour’s National Executive Committee on 6 January 2020. Nominations from the PLP and EPLP opened on 7 January and closed on 13 January. Between 15 January and 14 February, CLPs and affiliate organisations can nominate their preferred candidate. Applications to become a registered supporter opened on 14 January and closed on 16 January. Voting in the membership ballot opens on 21 February and closes at midday on 2 April. The result of the leadership election will be announced at a special conference on 4 April.