The way Labour elects its leader WILL change – but have negotiations broken down?

January 16, 2014 11:56 am

Labour’s special conference is only six weeks away – but reports this morning suggest that negotiations have broken down. GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny (who is also chair of the Labour/Unions organisation TULO) is quoted by the PA as saying:

“There were discussions taking place, which have broken down.”

A meeting of TULO earlier this week at which the Collins proposals for party reform were discussed saw tempers flaring over the plans. Party officials close to the process have denied that negotiations have broken down, but there does seem to be a fundamental disagreement between different sides over how Labour should elect future leaders.

In response to Kenny’s claim that negotiations have broken down, a Labour spokesperson told me this morning:

“Ed has made clear he wants radical reform. Ray Collins has yet to publish his report and you get this sort of speculation emerging in public when negotiations are taking place in private.

Ed has always been clear that the scale of his reforms mean that there are likely to be consequences for other rules and structures in the Labour Party. He is proposing that we change the way we elect our leaders. And discussions on party reform are ongoing.” (emphasis mine)

This is the first clear admission from the party that the electoral college used to elect Labour leaders is on the agenda for party reform and these negotiations. Previously party sources have sought to distance themselves from any claims that anything other than party membership was under discussion. Now it’s clear that the leadership election model is a major point of contention.

ed miliband downing street number 10

What’s concerning though is that the various sides don’t really have six weeks to achieve a robust a workable deal on party reform. In fact, they only have a little over two weeks before the real deadline – Labour’s NEC meeting on February 4th.

The point of disagreement between Kenny and Miliband seems to revolve around the use of OMOV (One Member One Vote) in leadership elections, and in particular the role of MPs in such a vote. But it seems fairly clear to me that you can’t claim to have OMOV in an election if MPs have a disproportionate amount of power in the process. As I wrote last July:

“the only sensible way to proceed and create the “movement” party that Ed Miliband says he wants is to have One Member One Vote for the leadership contest. That means every union affiliate opt-in member, ordinary party member, councillor, CLP Chair and MP would have one vote. Their votes would all count equally. It would be incredibly simple to see who had won (clue – the person with the most votes), and we can stop faffing around with “registered supporters” and other assorted boondoggles that don’t help build a better party, fund an election campaign or help create a movement.

If the electoral college goes, the only reasonable option is OMOV. The alternative – a power grab by the PLP – would sadly make our party more narrow, more factional, more sectional and more elitist. Which is the exact opposite to what the Labour leader professed to want earlier this week, and should be the last thing anyone wants – even our MPs.”

What seems like an eminently sensible solution is for MPs to have the power to nominate candidates for leader and whittle them down to the 3/4 most viable candidates. No-one can expect to succeed as party leader without showing some level of support amongst the PLP. But that shouldn’t mean the PLP also get a third or more of the vote in the subsequent ballot. In the Tory Party after MPs have shortened the field to the strongest candidates an OMOV vote is held amongst party members. It seems only sensible to replicate that in the Labour Party.

Yet amongst all of this talk of leadership elections and OMOV, there is one significant group who are being left out in the cold – the members. To discuss a “One Member One Vote” system without consulting members widely about it seems grotesque. It’s imperative that Kenny, Miliband, Collins and others can come to an agreed position on all of this. But it’s galling that members – the people who make the party tick – aren’t being adequately consulted as negotiations reach the final phase.

  • swatnan

    OMOV is the only way forward.
    Wonder if Ed will be first to subject himself to the new selection process.

    • Steve Stubbs

      No. He is only there due to the union block vote. turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

      • Redshift1

        Actually union members vote individually in the electoral college system. Hardly Ed’s fault that David made himself unpopular amongst union members.

        Only at conference to the unions get to vote as a block representing their ‘weight’ in memberships, but then conference has had little power in years anyway.

  • ColinAdkins

    Yes OMOVEV! One member, one vote, equal value.

  • rekrab

    OMOV would be the sensible way to go but what would the procedure be if the leader fell short of the members wishes and the members wanted to replace the leader?

    It’s a very important issue the selection of the leader but it ain’t the only issue, it maybe six weeks away until the special conference but when the stripping back begins I’d expect countless issues and probable faults to arise which will lengthen this debate for over six years never mind six weeks.

  • Steve Stubbs

    “But it’s galling that members – the people who make the party tick –
    aren’t being adequately consulted as negotiations reach the final phase”- says Mark.

    Are you seriously suggesting that individual members would vote against OMOV?. Its what would give them the same power as their elected representatives,

    Unions of course will oppose this, as it diminishes their power base, and the CPLs dominated by union placemen will also be against it under instructions.

    But individual members? Not a chance…..

    • treborc1

      That one way of doing it get a load of Union people to become labour party members and then tell them they are all secret agents for the Unions.


    Getting a Labour leader is the easy part. Its getting a Labour Prime Minister that is the hard part.

    • Nicholas Poulcherios

      I am not so sure! It will be difficult to select a Leader as the animal farm houses a variety of beasts that flock together. If he succeeds then rest assured the Nation will be in tune with him. I say Him assuming Ed.Milliband will be that beast. He can say No! and mean it. Unlike the current PM. who was moving around trips abroad like a headless chicken. “No! ” He said from now on we will not be doing things like before. And the following day all the papers ate him” Murdoch” owned? Including our now ?muzzled BBC.! I saw a PM. in waiting since then. I am of the same opinion now and have many more reasons to think like this.

  • Redshift1

    Can’t agree with you more Mark.

  • honukokua

    “No-one can expect to succeed as party leader without showing some level of support amongst the PLP”.
    True, indeed no-one can succeed as party leader without majority support amongst the PLP.

    “But that shouldn’t mean the PLP also get a third or more of the vote in the subsequent ballot. In the Tory Party after MPs have shortened the field to the strongest candidates an OMOV vote is held amongst party members. It seems only sensible to replicate that in the Labour Party.”
    Yes, it would be daft to see Labour having an apparently less democratic system than the Tories. However it opens up the potential for party members to vote for a candidate who lacks a majority of support amongst the PLP. Once the votes are tallied up that could mean a weakened leader, even if the PLP can whittle the list down beforehand to the strongest three candidates.

    So I think there’s a case for the PLP having two-thirds of the vote for a leader. It’s just too fundamental that the leader must command the support of the PLP. If that had happened in 2010 maybe the front bench would have been more vocal for the last 3 years?

    • Doug Smith

      “there’s a case for the PLP having two-thirds of the vote for a leader. ”

      Splendid proposal. Though Labour’s inability to achieve ‘cut through’ is because of a lack of political talent, not because the PLP are in a three-year-long sulk after not getting their way in the leadership election.

      If the PLP, already a self-selecting elite, shut the door to outside influence they’ll become even more irrelevant and will be unable to represent the interests of ordinary people – so the PLP will have achieved parity with the Tories. This should help win the support southern swing voters who will be gratified to be left untroubled by a serious political alternative.

      Miliband must stay strong in the face of Union opposition. He has staked his leadership on dumping the collective link with unions, he must see this through and while he’s at it he may as well curtail the influence of the already despised membership.

      • BillFrancisOConnor

        But Labour’s inability to achieve ‘cut through’ ?????

        The Sun Politics team have tweeted out tonight’s YouGov voting intention figures – topline figures are CON 33%, LAB 39%, LD 10%, UKIP 12%. There was a three point YouGov lead yesterday, but today’s figures are far more representative of recent YouGov polls, which on average have been showing a six point lead.

        More ‘cut through’ than anybody else though.

  • Nicholas Poulcherios

    It send my message for the face-book. I can not trace it. Alas! have no time. You must have it as it went normally.

  • Nicholas Poulcherios

    It is grotesque. As a member I should have a vote. These votes must be of equal value to the rest of the voters,linked with the party. I do like to see the Labour party forgetting on the other hand its origins and protecting the rights of all people. Choosing a leader has many other important points for us to reflect upon.
    As a member I must have a say and my say has got to be as important as any. Power from /of/and by the people not of individual groups of people. They pay to support the Party and not to muzzled it or its leader. But I do not fancy out Labour party party becoming a democratic party American style. Do get my point. It is a socialist party with Fabian taste but a socialist one.The Unions and the Party must get together and be more reassured that we do not relinquish our social values, and the state moves forward as one Nation. The Large successfully widen middle classes is a living success of the Labour Gov. in power under Crisis, years. The times we are all witnessing now is a cataclysmic attack on our social fabric and expanding imported capitalistic policies pushed down our throats as we never asked for all this. We want a strong Labour party emerging ready to win election and start uplifting the Nation into a vibrant action for All. I must have my vote Count as equal.

  • Woman

    I like the idea of leader being selected by a primary. I acutally love the idea! What do you think?

  • Daniel Speight

    To discuss a “One Member One Vote” system without consulting members widely about it seems grotesque.

    That really points to the problem. The PLP wants to hang onto the power it has built up through the New Labour years. What’s needed is to give more power to the CLPs if you really want a more democratic party. It seems that the old three-legged control by the PLP, the CLPs and the uniions has broken down. So if the answer is to become a mass membership party, the need is to give the decision making power to that membership. This may eventually help the PLP to become more of a reflection of the makeup of the membership, but it does also bode trouble for the careerists in the PLP.

  • Pingback: The battle for the soul of the Labour Party (part 47 – the unions are sold a dummy) | Defend the Link


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