Sunday 25 September 2016

On Shadow Cabinet Elections

No sooner had Jeremy Corbyn's leadership been confirmed by a vote decisively larger than last year, sundry MPs have taken to the airwaves and television studios calling for elections to the shadow cabinet. Longer-term members and politics watchers will recall this has been a staple of the Parliamentary Labour Party for decades, until it was abolished by Ed Miliband five years ago. The elections saw honourable members put themselves forward not for particular positions, but rather as a potential pool from which the leader appointed successful candidates. For argument's sake, suppose Angela Eagle put herself forward and was voted in by her peers, Jeremy could appoint her to any portfolio he sees fit. Though politics being politics, a wise leader with a view to party management would sift through the nominated to ensure those with the biggest following/support/standing get the juiciest roles. Competence, sadly, is not always the primary consideration.

Given these elections were abolished by a PLP vote in 2011, why do a large number of MPs want them back? As with all things, there are the good reasons, and there are the real reasons. From the PLP rebel standpoint, a great many of whom are unreconciled and irreconcilable to Jeremy, on the face of it elections to the shadow cabinet are one way of healing the rift between themselves and the leader's office. Quite how this makes it easier for them to come back isn't explained, it's not like they've found the confidence they lost in June. After all, the leader is still the same man he was before summer, except now strengthened and, dare I say it, a wee bit more polished and battle hardened. Nor have they explained why the party benefits from this process. We've had our Chukas, Tristrams, and Heidis talking about the need to face outward in unity and that these elections make this possible, but they haven't said how yet another period of internally focused campaigning and the pushing out of present shadow cabinet members creates the sorts of good party vibes we need to take on the Tories.

It's also unavoidable to view this call without a factional hat on. Whether these elections are a good in and of themselves is something the party can't decide on. Some local council Labour groups have them for shadow and incumbent administrations, some don't. It varies from locality to locality. Likewise, the old system saw us hold elections for the shadow cabinet, but these are deemed no longer necessary when the party is in power. Why? I suppose you could argue that having the party's permission to for a cabinet doesn't look good when you're trying to stamp your authority as a prime minister. But it that's true then, surely it's true for the potential PM role that comes with being the Leader of the Opposition.

The second point is far from engendering trust, shadow cabinet elections in this context could be a means of disciplining the leader. For one, as already stated, many of the incumbents are unlikely to get in. John McDonnell has had himself crossed off many MPs Christmas card lists, so he stands as much chance of getting into the shadow cabinet as I do. All of those Corbynist MPs friendly to the leader could also lose out. Jez could still appoint some, but only with attending as opposed to voting rights. That this would spark off another round of ill-feeling and hostility from an antipathetic membership isn't a calculation that appears to have been made. Second, it gives successful members a legitimacy that doesn't depend on the leader's grace and favour. Rebel MPs have grown quite attached to their (non-existent) personal mandates of late, so you can imagine some using that to misbehave, flouting collective responsibility, and otherwise stirring up trouble because they have an independent base of power. On top of that, with a rebel shadcab majority Jez would be hard pressed to get his policy positions through: we talk about a wide unanimity on domestic policy, for instance, but there are still MPs even now wedded to market fundamentalism, which is a politics fundamentally at odds to our party and movement. And lastly, there's NEC shenanigans to consider. The occupation of the seats reserved for shadow cabinet by MPs opposed to democratising the party rubs out the majority the party majority presently has. This would permanently put the reform agenda into stasis until the logjam in the rest of the party works itself out.

In short, the call for shadow cabinet elections now means, in practice, a perpetuation of the open warfare and an undermining of the leader's power. It's about asserting the primacy of the minority over the majority, just as that has been emphatically defeated in the needless, unnecessary leadership contest just gone. If Jeremy wants to carry on unimpeded, then this suggestion should be rejected.


Speedy said...

'If Jeremy wants to carry on unimpeded, then this suggestion should be rejected."

I wouldn't worry too much about that! Full speed over the cliff!

MikeB said...

That the PLP reactionaries are using their resounding defeat as the basis for making more demands is truly sickening. And you are entirely correct, Phil, in saying that their intention now is simply an attempt to marginalise Corbyn in his own Shadow Cabinet.

But "Support The Power of Patronage" is not a slogan that anyone will - or should - rally around. Corbyn will have to go to the slated NEC "awayday" after conference with definite proposals that will develop Party democracy and transparency, rather than simply opposing the reactionaries' demands.

David Timoney said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with the reference to McDonnell. The PLP have shifted target.

Anonymous said...

If the PLP and NEC and whoever gave a damn about accountability, they'd be calling for a cabinet elected by the party. They don't. They aren't. It is a desperate partisan stitch-up by Blairites who are terrified of losing the power and wealth they chase.

Unknown said...

Why is McDonnell held in such low esteem by many of the PLP?

BCFG said...

The concerning thing about this is that the PLP’s attempt to get more power even as they were soundly defeated in the leadership election has not been laughed at loudly. Amazingly it seems they are being taken seriously.

This cowering to the unfree media really will be Corbyn’s undoing.

It pretty obvious why the defeated but not yet demised sections of the centre left opposition want the power of shadow cabinet positions, it provides them with a power base within the party from which they can attack and undermine Corbyn and isolate him. Anyone believing unity is around the corner is so deluded they can’t be trusted to take decisions. Let us hope Corbyn is not among them!

Corbyn needs to see his leadership as an opportunity to transform the party so that the careerists can no longer treat the party as a career choice. He must ensure that never again can the PLP prevent social democratic candidates standing in the ballot. If he fails to address how the party is structured and organised then his leadership will be the last ever breath of the left in the Labour party and Corbyn will represent nothing but the permanent takeover of the party by the ruling establishment.

Corbyn has the means to transform Labour back to a representative party offering real choice and providing the working class with a real voice within society. If he fails to transform the party then party politics will forever be consigned to a corporatist technocracy, where both parties explicitly serve the interests of the ruling establishment.

I also fear the self effacing and tolerant Corbyn will fail to address the imperialist supremacist mindset which so infects British people, including sections of the left. Today at the conference we heard this imperialist supremacist mindset when a speaker was urging we do something about Assad and not to let the ‘West’ be distracted by his claims of fighting terrorists. This speech made no mention of the large support Assad carries in Syria, that doesn’t matter to the imperialist supremacist mindset. These people have learned nothing from the criminal disasters in Iraq and Libya, among others. No acknowledgment from the imperialist supremacist mindset that the horror facing Syria today was in large part a product of the policies of imperialist interest, which caused over a million and a half refugees to flee from Iraq and into Syria (In Europe a few thousand refugees represents a crisis!). The current refugee crisis (a crisis for the refugees that is) is in large part a product of the corrupt values of Western secular society with its imperialist supremacy and insatiable consumption needs. Yet the imperialist supremacist mindset still sees salvation in very societies that created the hell in the first place. We should ruthlessly name and shame those who display this disgusting and massively damaging imperialist supremacist mindset. A mindset that does more damage than a million Donald Trump supporters ever could. And this imperialist supremacist mindset always comes dripping in reasonableness and moral certainty. This imperialist supremacist mindset is the real problem infecting the Labour party not the phantom of anti Semitism.

I see great hope in Corbyn, but I fear his very commendable qualities will not equip him for the fight ahead. After all he is in a den of wolves, thieves and liars.

Igor Belanov said...

@Franky B

"Why is McDonnell held in such low esteem by many of the PLP?"

1) For the same reason that Corbyn is, given that he is his friend and lieutenant;

2) At the current time, because Corbyn has just been handed another huge mandate and McDonnell is the next most senior figure. He is more open to attack because he lacks the formal legitimacy that Corbyn has gained directly from the membership. If shadow cabinet elections were open to the whole party, that situation might change.

BCFG said...

How is it that a GMB spokesman can make blatantly racist comments and no one bats so much as an eyelid, yet when someone points out the crimes of Israel we are told that we have an anti Semitism problem and Jews need protection and need to flee the country in fear of their lives.

I am speaking of the thoroughly racist comment in relation to the fracking debate, namely,

"No fracking means the UK will rely on ‘henchman, hangmen and head-choppers’"

I am just trying to imagine the reaction is a similar comment had been made about those moral purists of the Israeli state.

Double standards, scaremongering, yet bet ya!

When racism is thoroughly accepted, becomes part of the fabric of a society, this is racism at its most dangerous and that racism comes in the form of Islamophobia and general racism against Muslims.

johnny conspiranoid said...

Elected cabinets are an impractical idea. The person in charge has to decide things or else what are they in charge of?

Blissex said...

«If the PLP and NEC and whoever gave a damn about accountability, they'd be calling for a cabinet elected by the party.»

J Corbyn has argued for a long time, until 2011, that shadow cabinet selections should be done by members. The PLP has always rejected that.

«Elected cabinets are an impractical idea. The person in charge has to decide things or else what are they in charge of?»

I agree with that. But impractical ideas have never stopped Labour :-) and as our blogger reminds us, until 2011 nominations to the shadow cabinet were done by the PLP; J Corbyn always argued that they should be done instead by members. Perhaps on a slate along with the leader, at the same time, as elections by members are very expensive.

The Conservative and Unionist Party sidesteps this as only MPs can be members of the party, which is thus strictly only parliamentarian. The people who are commonly thought as members of that party are technically members of a local supporters club, and party headquarters are technically only the federation of such local clubs.

Blissex said...

«Rebel MPs have grown quite attached to their (non-existent) personal mandates of late»

I have read your argument in the 2015 post as to that and I think it is correct but badly expressed. Those MPs that emphasize their "personal" mandate are dissembling cleverly about the formalities, but they are not wrong, and your argument addresses that but not clearly enough.

The dissembling about the formalities is about cleverly confusing the MP mandate, which is theoretically indeed personal, and the candidate mandate, which is given by the party when the candidate appears on that party's ticket. Election ballots carry both party symbol and candidate name.

Thus selection is about being a candidate representing a party, while election is about being an MP representing a constituency. The MPs dissemble by arguing that as long they are elected by a constituency they should be automatically selected for the party ticket, as they are two completely distinct issues, as demonstrated by their ability to run as independent candidates on their own ticket.

Also voters know well that elected MPs work under the party whip system in Parliament, therefore that as long as they do take the party whip, they represent the party more than their constituents.