Electing the shadow cabinet – the way it is currently done at least – is fraught with problems. Why, for example, do we only elect the shadow cabinet, but not the full cabinet? It seems odd and contradictory that elections should kick-in over the body which cannot directly formulate government policy. Why should the franchise be restricted to the Parliamentary Labour Party when the whole party, in however imperfect a form, elects the Leader? The answer, of course, to both questions is that we should also elect the cabinet and the franchise should not be restricted to the Parliamentary Labour Party. If it is, the charge that the system empowers only one section of the party and not the others is totally valid.
We need elections to the Shadow Cabinet but not in the current form that they exist. Having said all that, it would then be contradictory to turn round and support the of the abolition of even the limited franchise that exists. It would be a bit like time-travelling to 1900 and saying that the way to win universal suffrage is to abolish the right to vote for everybody. I don’t agree with Ed on this and reasons for actually agreeing with him are spurious to say the least. Luciana Berger MP, writing in support, sums these reasons up well. Essentially, they are inward looking and that’s the main charge laid against them.
I fail to see, however, how the replacement system of essentially having to compete for the leaders grace and favour will be any less inward looking or indeed less coffee-intensive. In fact, this system will encourage backbenchers to be less independent. Surely this is a bad thing for the party and inner-party democracy as well as the countrywho will be less than enthused by the continuing vomit-inducing level of sycophancy required to win promotion. It may well make the Labour Party look less like a living, breathing and vital political force and rather like an organisation of drones.
Both the electorate and the membership are people we should trust and respect as mature adults who can deal with a little bit of democracy and indeed some political rough and tumble from time to time. It strikes me that these proposals trust neither and ask us to invest total trust in one individual, the leader. This is with no checks and balances in place. None of this strikes me as very democratic at all really – indeed, one of my huge disappointments of Ed’s speech to the National Policy Forum is that there is nothing but rhetoric and vague, half-whispered promises when it comes to empowering the membership.
The current system is not perfect and I happily take that on board – there must be radical changes made – but its a whole lot better than a continued centralisation of power in the person of the leader. Labour has had enough of that in the last period, it is directly the cause of our decay as a viable party of government. It’s time to try another way – the radically democratic way – and in that light these proposals are clear step back, not forward.