Conference should reject the ‘McDonnell amendment’
Sometimes, the most innocent-looking amendments go to the heart of what the Labour party is.
Are we simply a grassroots, socialist movement, which has members of parliament who are delegates, or are we a broad coalition of citizens and voters who want to achieve a parliamentary majority for social change, building support in every region?
Since its creation it has been the latter.
It goes to the heart of why we are the British Labour party, not the British Socialist party. Yes, a party that is anti-establishment, that challenges the status quo, that believes in radical change to the social order, but a party that believes that, to do so, we need Labour to be a popular voice from Delyn to Dover, Ipswich to Inverness. Where no Tory MP is far from a Labour neighbour to take them on. Where Labour is once more the voice of a country, with voices in every county.
Having leaders, whether of left or right, who command broad support in parliament and in the country has always been fundamental to achieving that purpose. That is why the parliamentary Labour party has nomination rights. A rule change at Labour conference 2015 extended this to include the European parliamentary Labour party.
The rule change being suggested this year asks that, in the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, any candidate can stand for leader with the support of just five per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs. It has been nicknamed the ‘McDonnell amendment’, after John twice announced his intention to stand for leader only to withdraw because he could only muster a handful of names who would support him. It is even rumoured that John would like a third crack of the whip if a vacancy became available.
This amendment might be designed as a golden ticket for McDonnell, but in reality it is a golden ticket to any maverick, ego-driven, have-a-go MP from either wing or none. If the amendment is passed, just 13 MP/MEPS out of 250 could place a candidate on the ballot paper. Getting on the ballot with fewer MPs than Labour has in a small county like South Yorkshire seems untenable. Or for that matter – and no offence intended to our 20 MEP friends – you could have a candidate exclusively nominated by them if a vacancy emerged before Brexit.
At present after a leader has stood down the threshold is 15 per cent, requiring 37 nominations. I do not think that is too much to ask of someone to achieve in order to be a credible candidate. It is worth remembering Andrea Leadsom did not believe the support of just 25 per cent of her peers was enough.
A five per cent threshold allows an MP, with little more support than you need to table an early day motion on UFOs or stray donkeys, to present themselves as a candidate for leader of our great party.
The Labour party’s rules confer different rights and responsibilities to different components of our movement reflecting their distinctive roles. Members, constituencies, branches, councillors, trade unions, Socialist Societies, MEPs and MPs clearly do not all play identical roles, nor should they have the exact same responsibilities. All play their part in our party’s success but clearly the parliamentary Labour party carries a heavy burden of responsibility. The nomination process reflects its critical role which has been recognised for a hundred years.
Politics is a team game. Recognising the collective effort required in parliament, any candidate who cannot get the backing of 15 per cent of the people they will lead clearly will not have the credibility to unite a parliamentary team and provide an effective opposition to the Tories.
This amendment loses sight of what our party requires: strong leaders who command respect inside and outside of parliament; who can use parliament to maximum effect; who can carry a message to reach all corners of the country, to help build a platform for government.
This amendment is a backward step. Conference should reject it.
Caroline Flint MP is a former member of the shadow cabinet
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conference, Labour leadership, Labour party conference 2016, leadership contest, McDonnell amendment