Friday 24 March 2017

Labour leadership ballot threshold

In the run-up to the 2007 Labour Leadership (non) contest I was interviewed by Channel Four News. I wanted a contest rather than a coronation, and wanted John McDonnell's name on the ballot paper. I was going to vote for Gordon Brown anyway, but felt that a contest would have given him legitimacy. More importantly it would have given ordinary members like me a say in who ran our party.

Consequently, I think the avoidance of an election did not give Gordon the opportunity to sell his vision of what he wanted to do with his Leadership, which I think contributed to many of the problems he subsequently encountered.

I see myself as a centrist, mostly because I see compromise and accommodation with all views as central to my version of democratic socialism. In many areas I hold a traditional left-wing stance, and it is surprising just how many things I agree with our current leader about - surprising in that I twice voted for other candidates in the two most recent leadership contests.

The most important reason for Labour's existence is to represent working people - which means winning elections. Ideological purity is mere hot air if you cannot implement any of your ideas.

There is a McDonnell amendment that looks to lower the threshold for those seeking to lead the Labour Party. This is because the Left has not been able to get enough people elected as MPs to qualify for the contest without those from other wings of the party lending their names so that a Left candidate is on the ballot paper. Dianne Abbot (2010) and Jeremy Corbyn  (2015) both scraped in by borrowing nominations. Now that Jeremy won, many non-Left MPs are seemingly convinced against such beneficence in future.

I do not support the McDonnell amendment, and this is not for any tribal reason . I believe that all wings of our great party have much to contribute, and actually I refuse to slavishly follow any faction. I am as at home in Compass and the CLPD as I am in Progress and the Fabians. Good ideas come in all shapes and sizes.

My principal objection manifested itself in the abortive coup after last June's EU referendum. The Leader of the Labour Party's main job is to lead the PLP, and to do this he (or she) must command their support. A 15% threshold to get onto the ballot paper in any future leadership contest does not strike me as unreasonable.

A Leader foisted onto MPs by a membership who are far more radically inclined has its problems, and the infighting that accompanies this helps no-one.

We need a united party, and a sensibly set barrier to leadership I think encourages us to be united.

Let me be clear though; I am a loyalist. I have yet to vote for the winner in a Leadership contest in the two decades of my membership of the Labour Party, but I accept the result and support whoever is chosen. I also am a firm believer in democracy. I just want some commonsense to prevail.

Finally. If Momentum and the like are upset about the make-up of the PLP then they will get their chance to change this when the next round of Parliamentary selections begin. Please, though, let us have people capable of actually winning support from the electorate.

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition