Next weekend, the Labour Party has the opportunity to become a truly progressive social democratic party. One that values and wants member input into one of its most crucial decisions: the selection of the leader.
For the past year, the Labour Party has been engaged in an organisational review that has drawn its momentum from the enthusiasm and interest shown by party activists in the leadership contest following the last election. The culmination of the organisation review is a number of remits to amend the Party constitution that have the potential to increase the voice and involvement of activists and members in the Party. The Party has consulted with members throughout the organisation review and at each stage of the process members have clearly identified that input into the selection of the leader is significant to them.
So where are things at? There appears to be consensus around the Party’s proposal for an electoral college of: caucus (40%), members (40%), and affiliates (20%). This is positive and reflects the importance of members. In any leadership contest, members’ votes will now have the same weighting as caucus. However, as always, the devil is in the detail.
In order for members to have a say, there has to be a leadership contest. This makes the ‘trigger’ for a leadership contest crucial. If the ‘trigger’ is too high, caucus ultimately decides and members are excluded, so if the Party is serious about member involvement and input the threshold for the trigger will be reasonably low. There are two parts to Party’s proposal:
an endorsement 3 months after a general election; and
a ‘trigger’ outside of the endorsement process.
It is difficult to deal with these two issues separately, but in theory the threshold for both should be the same.
Originally, the Party proposed a 50% plus 1 trigger for the endorsement after a general election and a signed petition by two-thirds of the caucus for a leadership election outside of the endorsement. A two-thirds ‘trigger’ is ridiculously high. It would give a small minority of the caucus the ability to prop up an unpopular leader who had lost of the confidence of the majority of his parliamentary colleagues or members. This seems to be the feedback the Party has received as well and largely reflects the amendments to conference put forward by members. So with two-thirds pretty much a gone. What options are there for delegates to conference to choose from?
The Party has now proposed the trigger outside the endorsement process be 55%. I’m not sure where this number has come from, it seems a bit random, but I suspect it is about placating parts of the caucus that are worried about having too much member involvement. There is also an amendment to make it 50% plus 1. But this still leaves the selection of the leader primarily in hands of caucus and will encourage factionalism.
I’ve heard rumours that there might be an amendment to make the ‘trigger’ 40% of caucus. This is intriguing. It would mean that the leader would need to maintain the support of a clear majority of their parliamentary colleagues promoting stability and would also align with the members proportion of the electoral college votes. It is also worth bearing in mind that the British Labour Party only requires 20% of their parliamentary caucus to sign a petition to call a leadership election so the talk about 50% seems strange given the proposed model is largely modeled on Britain. My advice to delegates would be go with the lowest threshold possible to ensure that members will always be an integral part of selecting the leader.
No less important is the threshold for the endorsement following a general election. The current proposal is 50% plus 1 for endorsement. This seems to run a little counter to the intent of the organisational review. It centres the process on caucus and a low threshold for caucus endorsement will result in reduced member involvement. This is probably what is behind one of the amendments to require 60% support of caucus to endorse the leader. This would align with the members’ share of electoral college vote and would require a clear majority of support for the leader in caucus to avoid member involvement in selecting the leader. I’d support this amendment.
This conference provides members with a unique opportunity to solidify their involvement in the process for selecting the leader. Once this is done, there is not likely to be another chance to change the rules for some time. I’d encourage delegates to conference to keep this in mind when they come to cast their votes and as issues emerge on the floor of conference. No doubt, there is lots of maneuvering going on behind the scenes at the minute. The Party hierarchy shouldn’t be afraid of proper input members. After all, members are the foot-soldiers the drive the cause. Just remember, that in order for the leader to be successful they need to have the support of members. Let’s make sure the process truly reflects the importance of our place in the party.