Today MPs will start to formally nominate candidates for Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
Thus far we have had a phoney war, with declarations of support rather than nominations. These are not binding and in any case only 141 out of 232 have expressed any preference, according to Labourlist’s own running totals.
Candidates require 35 nominations to go forward to the ballot of members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. This threshold is higher than it used to be (it was 33 in a larger PLP in 2010) because as part of the Collins Review package the Parliamentary Labour Party gave up its 1/3 share in the Electoral College and in return was compensated with stronger control over who reaches the final ballot.
It seems very clear that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall will have at least the required 35.
Whilst I support the right of the PLP to determine the choice presented to members and in general I don’t think candidates with under 15% support from fellow MPs have a strong case to be shortlisted, in this case I think there is a very strong case that MPs should nominate tactically to ensure Jeremy Corbyn gets on the ballot paper. I.e. I believe that MPs whose own preferred candidate is assured 35 nominations or who were intending to stay neutral should follow the precedent set when Diane Abbott was helped onto the ballot in 2010 and help Corbyn reach 35.
This isn’t because I believe Jeremy should be Leader. I can think of almost 231 Labour MPs I would rather have as Leader, not on personal grounds but purely on the basis of proximity to my own politics and those of the voters Labour needs to win support from to beat the Tories. I think Jeremy is gloriously wrong on almost all domestic issues, and on several international ones such as boycotts of Israel and scrapping the UK nuclear deterrent his views are anathema to me as would mine be to him. I’ve spent my political life battling Jeremy’s friends and allies at CLP level and in three successive NEC elections I’ve run nationally in opposition to them.
These are the reasons why he should be helped onto the ballot:
It’s the democratic thing to do. Jeremy may represent less than 15% of the PLP but anyone who knows the Labour Party in the country will acknowledge that he represents a genuine current among Labour activists. Maybe it’s only a 10 or 15% current (Abbott got 7.5% among individual members in 2010 and 12.3% among trade unionists) but these include people who work their socks off as activists keeping many CLPs alive. They have a right to express themselves fully in the leadership election even if I think it would be a disaster if their candidate won it. It’s about mutual respect – we have all just worked together as comrades in the General Election, we shouldn’t be trying to block anyone from going forward to the ballot in an internal election. It cuts both ways – there are people who I know want to vote for Jeremy who have stopped me from being blocked from running in NEC elections (you need your own CLP’s nomination to run and my previous CLP in Hackney North was very finely balanced between left and right) and I think they deserve the same respect for their stance in this instance.
Jeremy’s involvement will ensure we actually get the cathartic debate we need about all the potential paths the party could take. Without him there will be more silliness trying to portray people well to his right as though they are something they are not and less clarity and perspective about the different stances on offer. Broadly speaking there are four historical currents or tendencies in the Labour Party – although individuals, including leadership candidates can drift across the spectrum and most members probably do not identify with anything other than loyalty to the party as a whole. These are the new, Blairite right that emerged in the 1990s; a more traditional trade union oriented pre-Blairite moderate current; the historic Tribunite or Soft Left; and the Hard Left (not a pejorative term, just a way of distinguishing it from the previous group) associated with the Bennites in the 1980s and the Campaign Group of MPs. To ensure members are not faced with an artificially narrow choice, all these traditions need to be represented on the leadership ballot paper.
Finally, as an opponent of the Hard Left, I am confident enough about the superiority of my own political ideas and policies that I want their ideas taken on democratically and defeated in an open contest of ideas, not “fixed” out of existence. If Jeremy is not on the ballot paper we will hear nothing for five years but how members were denied a real choice and he could have won if he had not been blocked by the PLP. I want his ideas scrutinised and defeated in a democratic ballot so we can prove that they are not the direction the vast majority of members want to go in.