Listening to the Labour Party leadership coverage to date, I have come to the conclusion that an evident appetite for the widest possible reflection and proper debate will be impossible without a rethink - not of the rules, but how the principal players behave in the circumstances. We need even more brotherly love.
As set out the Labour Party rules concerning valid nominations have come to dominate Leadership contests. Labour MPs (members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)) have the whip hand. They and they alone can determine who can and cannot get on the ballot paper. In the event of a vacancy, Rule 4.2.B.i says that 12.5% of Labour MPs must nominate to ensure a place on the ballot paper. In the event of no vacancy, under Rule 4.2.B.ii says that 20% of Labour MPs are required. It need not be like that.
David and Ed have had their Mother Miliband moment, eshewed deals and guaranteed an election for the next Leader of the Labour Party. Both seem confident of getting the necessary nominations. For that they deserve genuine applause and gratitude. After listening to Ed Miliband declare his candidacy yesterday at the Fabian Society post-election conference, I went to an alternative Labour movement event organised by the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing at which there was a discussion about the prospects of getting John McDonnell MP on the ballot paper. I doubt that his prospects are any better even with a smaller PLP, than they were in 2007. But in winding up a workshop debate on 'Fighting for Labour's future - A Left turn', I committed to playing my part to try and achieve that aim. Not because I necessarily agree with John, but because I believe there is a significant proportion of party members (both individuals and affiliates) and people in the wider Labour movement, who do. They deserve to be heard in this debate. But will the Party be offered real choice? I think not. That would be wrong, both as a matter or principle and in practice. There is also a question of how the Party is going to be funded. We need to persuade those hundreds of thousands of former members who have resigned or lapsed to come back, and those thinking of joining anew to put their money where their mouths are and sign a direct debit to show real commitment.
So, the power brokers, and in this I include the affiliated trades unions and Unite the Union in particular, need to think very carefully about how they exercise their influence between now and the close of nominations.
To be valid Leadership candidate requires the backing of 33 Labour MPs on a nomination paper (NB not 32 as I have peviously blogged and tweeted incorrectly by rounding down instead of up). That part of the process does not have to be a popularity contest among prospective candidates inside the PLP itself. (Though human nature being what it is, the prospects of changing that state of affairs is not great. So I not under any illusions.)
However, in the search for the most diverse and widest possible contest, I will persist, however, foolishly. Who are the power brokers I am referring to? Well in the first instance, there are the candidates themselves. On the basis of current information, there will be no woman, and/or no Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic candidates. That in itself is a serious indictment of Labour Party political progress in its 100-year plus history. Nor will all the political wings of the Labour Party be represented. What we are facing is the prospect of continuity candidates with different trills of mea cupla.
What can possibly be done? The Miliband brothers have already demonstrated a way forward through brotherly love. We now need more of that in the form of comradely behaviour, ideally before the nomination papers for the positions of Labour Leader and Deputy are issued. All it needs is just one candidate not just to acknowledge the need for both diversity, and political breadth. But do something about it. That would help transform the nature of the contest.
What to do? The next step would be a big ask of their PLP supporters. As soon as a Labour leader candidate gets 33 nominations, every extra MP nomination is a wasted vote. Which of the declared candidate will invite candidates from other political wings of the Labour Party to stand and offer to lend 'wasted' PLP nomination votes to enable such candidates get on the ballot paper?
As matters stand, there is a very serious risk the widest possible debate will be reduced to grades of the proverbial Rizla paper, as illustrated here. So who is up for challenge? Ed, David? Or Ed Balls, or Andy Burnham or Jon Cruddas or whoever else thinks they can make the cut. To be credible it has to come from a candidate able to show 33 nominees now. So who is it?