Monday 6 January 2020

How to Screw Up a Leadership Election

I'm oft fond of saying on here that if you want to avoid politics, you should go to a Labour Party meeting. Another adage might be if you want something organising, don't let the Labour Party NEC anywhere near it. Unfortunately as our highest decision making body between conferences, the newly-decided timetable for the Labour leadership election is, to put matters euphemistically, counter-productive. This is how it's looking.

Between 7th and 13th January nominations from MPs and MEPs are made, with parliamentary hustings taking place tomorrow night (Rebecca Long-Bailey, despite saying her piece needs to get her finger out and declare (Edit - she has!)). Then between the 14th and 16th supporters can register, of which more shortly, and between the 15th up to 14th February CLPs and unions make their nominations. Remember, to run a leadership or deputy leadership candidate needs 10% of MPs or MEPs behind them. They also require a union nomination or five per cent of constituency parties, which will whittle down the field. A cut off point kicks in on 20th January for new members' eligibility to vote in the contest, and voting takes place between 21st February and 2nd April, with the new leader announced on the 4th.

What's so bad about this? Here are three reasons why.

1. There's the timing. One of the lessons the party stubbornly refuses to learn is how the Tories take advantage of periods of Labour's introspection. In 2010 the departure of Gordon Brown and the long leaders' debate then allowed the coalition government to set out its priorities without facing a strong united voice defending the handling of the 2008-9 crisis and the lie too much public spending was to blame. In 2016 with the spectacularly pointless parliamentary rebellion against the party membership, the whole summer was spent toing and froing over a leadership contest whose outcome was a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile Theresa May settled into office and paraded around as if on water, defining Brexit in the hardest possible terms. And now here we are in 2020 with a new government beset with tensions, and having stupidly set itself the task of settling Brexit within the year Labour are going to spend the best part of three months holding not the Tories and Boris Johnson to account, but its own leadership candidates. There is no rhyme nor reason why the contest has to be so long.

2. The £25 supporter fee. The NEC, which is left-dominated, has decided to go along with the bulk of the rules set for the 2016 contest. Rules, you will recall, that were imposed to limit the participation of large numbers of people on the periphery of the party who were being drawn into activity - most of whom are now members, provide a significant chunk of the activists, and are almost entirely on the left. Now some think this doesn't matter because, if you're really so moved to vote, you can join the party at the lower rate of paying a month's sub, casting a ballot, and then cancelling. Which renders the fee utterly pointless and makes it look as though the party doesn't know its arse from its elbow. Additionally, though there is a work around setting the supporter rate relatively high hardly sends out inviting vibes. And, even worse, some of the left NEC reps have gone along with this nonsense concoction blissfully unaware that this can stymie any popular uprising and mass expansion of the party in the future. They've lent it credence and is demonstrative of their poverty of political imagination while they think they're blocking imagined centrists and die hard remainiacs.

3. Elections. Considering Labour is an electoralist party, it's plain bizarre that the NEC are acting as though elections aren't happening. This May we see the London mayor election (well done Sadiq Khan for putting people off from campaigning for you) and local elections. If Labour is to recover, it has to expand its local presence and make the case for competency and transformative politics here. Sadly, this is a big ask as far as the majority of Labour-run councils are concerned. Still, the NEC could have shown the wider party it was at least taking these into consideration by shortening the contest and giving the new leader a bit more time to bed in, as well as orienting CLPs and Labour Groups around the new direction of travel. It's not the case Labour is London-centric, it is still largely Westminster focused.

In short, piss ups and breweries come to mind. Here's to the next three months!


Jimbo said...

I disagree. Corbyn had to go, sooner the better. He is a liability.

Sophie said...

Given the destruction of the Labour Party we sawe on 12 December Corbyn should never have been elected...

But he should have stepped down immediately after the elction and an interim appointed to oversee the process - someone like Harman, Benn, Cooper or other experienced Labour Party person who would not be standing and then we could carry on having a strong voice whilst the leadership election was underway. To my mind the timetable is too unwieldy and we should have a new leader in place by the beginning of March. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Tories in whittling down the applicants so that the members have a choice of two. That way we can get on with the process of opposing in Parliament far more quickly in this crucial Brexit time

Anonymous said...


Well he is going, so thanks for that incisive contribution.

Mark H said...

What do you disagree with?

Anonymous said...

Unless I'm much mistaken, Jimbo and Sophie disagree with the existence of the Labour Party and believe that Britain needs a third Tory party to join the two already present on the slate.

And unless I'm much mistaken, the heavyweights in the Labour Party agree with them. I hope, in this latter case, I really am much mistaken.

John said...


" interim appointed to oversee the process - someone like Harman, Benn, Cooper..."

So they could change the nomination rules and prevent anyone from the left of the party from standing?

"Maybe there is something to be learned from the Tories in whittling down the applicants so that the members have a choice of two"

Then they can give us the option of 'centrist' A or 'centrist' B. There'll have been a formal election to legitimate the new leader of the party, but no real choice politicaly.

That would certainly help to close up one of the loopholes that allow democracy to interfere with the British political system.

Jimbo said...

I most certainly do not want a Torylite party. He made mistakes, saddled the NHS with unpayable PFI contracts, didn't renationlise the Railways, and of course invaded Iraq.

However what I do want is a labour party that can win a general election. And I'm sure that's what you want too? This petty factional strife will do nothing to help that.

DFTM said...

Sophie is speedy in drag, so don't worry.

And Sophie/Speedy's greatest wish is that whoever you vote for you get Tory.

Personally I don't see the logic in this. If you want Hilary Benn, of all people, to oversee the party, you already have 2 parties that you can vote for, the Tories and the Lib Dems and probably others too. FFS, can't we just have one party that in some way represents us? I personally don't give a shit if we lose every election for the next 300 years, I would rather have that and be represented rather than the other option of having no one to represent me.

I mean where is the logic in saying, we can't beat our opponents therefore lets just become like our opponents? The logic should say, we can't beat our opponents and I don't much like our policies anyway, therefore I will leave this party and join one of the others whose policies I do like.

How can it be good for democracy that all the parties converge and everything becomes homogenised? When I did my economics degree a major Keynesian critique of neo liberalism was that the 'free market' causes homogenisation, I note with a wry smile that politics is not immune to the discipline of the market! Politics has been reduced to a commodity by these oh so progressives!

What these oh so progressives want is to eradicate our representation, where we literally have no one to vote for. The likes of Denham want to drive from public life and civil society anyone holding anti imperialist views and the Sophies/speedys of this world want to drive from political life anyone to the left of Yvette Cooper.

Its time to get violent!

Anonymous said...

Only a few MPs write their own presentations- paying someone to write your speech even as a junior MP is quite the norm. Lots of help with briefings and presentation style also. Some MPs do read the letters that their staff write for and do actually sign them.

Anonymous said...

Yes I worked for a MP for a few months he did not even read most of the letters we sent out in his name. I am told this is not always the case and that many do read them... anyway my eyes now open.

Blissex said...

«I mean where is the logic in saying, we can't beat our opponents therefore lets just become like our opponents?»

Actually the logic is: let's build a coalition of 90% socialdemocrat voters and 10% tory voters, and to do that we need a 90% tory and 10% socialdemocrat political programme, because that 10% of tory voters won't vote for us otherwise, and the 90% of socialdemocrat voter will vote for us anyhow because they have nowhere else to go.

«The logic should say, we can't beat our opponents and I don't much like our policies anyway, therefore I will leave this party and join one of the others whose policies I do like.»

The logic is simply "There is no alternative" intended performatively: that the socialdemocrat voters are either nasty communists or gullible simpletons and must have no political representation, because only variants of thatcherism should be represented.

Blissex said...

«Given the destruction of the Labour Party we saw on 12 December»

What we saw on 12th december was the destruction of centrism-for-2nd-ref, and a significant loss for socialdemocracy-for-2nd-ref in some "Leave" areas. The parties and candidates that got truly and well defeated have been Change UK (including Chris Leslie, good riddance), the LibDems (including Chuka Umunna, good riddance), and centrist-for-2nd-ref Labour candidates like Anna Turley, who managed to achieve a 15% swing against herself in Redcar, as well as getting 2/3 of her constituents to vote "Leave" in 2016, such was the appeal of her centrism-for-Remain campaigning skills.

The obvious electoral lessons Labour needs to learn are:

* The "centrist" political space is rather small, or else the "dream coalition" of perfectly centrist Change UK and LibDems would have 400MPs now.

* The Conservatives are very good at cover the right-wing to extreme far-right political space, so trying to out-thatcher them (e.g. Yvette Cooper and her nasty disability tests) is futile.

* Whatever political space is left is just corbynism and socialdemocracy, whether or not that is enough to get a majority of seats.

John (is a very common name) said...

"Sophie is speedy in drag, so don't worry."

Honestly, I think we should all try to avoid trivial and ad hominem arguments, and try to stick to the political point. The silly shit of some guy on the internet pursuing a bizarre vendetta against some other guy on the internet is, at best, pointless and unedifying.

John (is a very common name) said...

Honestly, anyone meaningfully left-wing is going to have a fight on their hands, is going to be vilified and defamed. The odds, as always, are against us, but we certainly don't win by pre-emptively surrendering.

Personally, at the moment I'd incline towards Rebecca Long-Bailey, based on what she's written and said.

Karl Greenall said...

As acting leader twice, Harman was a disaster. She allowed,first time,the austerity narrative to get hold, and second time, she told Labour MPs to abstain on the benefit cuts bill. Benn loudly supported Syrisn bombings on the base of false evidence, and Cooper has great difficulty in suppressing her authoritarian tendencies, which follow in the tradition of the failures as Home Secretary of Blunkett and Clark.
Yes, three great leading lights to follow.

Karl Greenall said...

We all want a Labour Party that can win elections, but it's after that that the real problems begin, when, Like Blair, they give more effort to telling the workers that they have to wait for improvements which ultimately never materialize,whilst bending over backwards for the City and the Establishment in general. That is why, in the end, Labour lose office.