EDITOR’S NOTE: This does not reflect Labour Vision’s editorial line. However, we believe in open debate and not in submerging views with which we do not agree. Debating controversial matters such as this in an open forum is the only true way to reach consensus.
Conference season is looming, and with it the first opportunity to see how an emboldened Jeremy Corbyn can set out an ambitious reform agenda which, more than a minor party technicality, could see a fundamental re-shaping of Labour’s future.
The so-called ‘McDonnell Amendment’ is a proposal which would see the threshold of support from MPs and MEPs needed for a candidate in a leadership election reduced from 15% to 5%. The current 15% threshold is seen as prohibitive to left-wing candidates who reflect the politics of the membership but not necessarily their parliamentary colleagues and the lowering of this would allow for a successor from the Corbyn wing of the party to get on the ballot more easily.
The fact that Corbyn had to borrow nominations to get on the ballot in 2015 shows that a prohibitive threshold is at odds with the views of the membership who readily endowed Corbyn with a significant mandate. If indeed an enhanced party democracy which values the views of members is to work at all then it follows that a candidate cannot be blocked from a leadership election on the basis that they might in fact win without the support of their parliamentary colleagues. It is an opportunity for Labour to follow through with its commitment to one-member-one-vote and not attempt to place the will of the PLP above that of the membership.
Opponents of the amendment fear that if a left-winger is always on the ticket they will consistently be elected by a membership which is generally left of the country as a whole. It is a reasonable concern and it is certainly true that Labour must find a candidate that is able to appeal to a broad coalition of voters. There simply aren’t enough left-wingers, or indeed young voters, in the country to elect a Labour government on their own.
Labour lost the general election and so the left cannot claim to have any proof that Corbyn passes the electability test, but the pessimism amongst many members and parliamentarians was also significantly overstated. Whether Labour’s election results represents an electoral ceiling or a broader momentum is yet to be established but coming from a fairly low base of expectation the election can be considered a good start for Labour’s recovery.
Whilst the manifesto proved popular, it is also significant that the reasons behind Labour’s electoral victory are not solely because of the ‘Corbyn effect’. A weak Conservative campaign as well as its stance on key issues such as the NHS and Brexit drove voters away from the Tories and it cannot be overstated that if Labour is to become an electoral force once again, it must abandon its ideological civil war and focus its efforts on credible opposition.
Corbyn’s leadership on the whole has been anything but unifying, and it has brought with it significant disappointments. A better than expected electoral performance must be the start of a recovery rather than the culmination of his leadership. Unity between the leadership and the parliamentary party serves the practical purpose of maximising the number of votes in parliament and maximising how effectively the party can oppose Conservative policies. Rather than insist that the leadership must reflect the ideology of the PLP it makes rather more sense that the PLP itself should respect the will of the members.
It is an age-old debate in the Labour movement and I’m not proposing that we reduce our representatives to mere delegates who must do the bidding of their local party, but the PLP does need to be broadly in line with the party membership, otherwise what is the point in having a party? If our reform to-date has been to improve party democracy by giving the members a more significant role in selecting the leader then it has to be followed through in full.
The jury is still out on whether a meaningful socialist government is electable in this country, but there is no doubt that a factionalised and divided party is weaker than a united one. If conference passes the McDonnell amendment then it would be a significant victory for the labour movement and a significant victory for party democracy.