Yesterday, I attended the 33-member Labour's National Executive Committee to consider and decide on the rules for the forthcoming Leadership election. No papers had been circulated in advance. A not uncommon occurrence, but an understandable one in the immediate aftermath of Labour's General Election defeat.
Sadly, as I expected following prior discussions with colleagues, there was no reference in the laid-round papers to the issue of nomination papers for deputy leader, or even a contingency plan in the event of a valid nomination requiring 52 Labour MPs' signatures on a Deputy Leader nomination paper. I had blogged last week inviting interim Leader Harriet Harman to make sure that the said papers were issued. All to no avail.
Worse the NEC papers contained a recommended time and date for the closure of Leader nominations by the Parliamentary Labour Party of 12.30 pm on Thursday 27May - just 9 days away. Leadership contenders only require 33 signatories as there is a vacancy following the resignation of former Leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
It was an audacious constitutional coup for the retention of power and influence by the ruling elite inside the Labour Party. It could cost the Party dearly in terms of recruitment potential, future electoral prospects and possibly threaten its future financial viability.
In contention are the Rules governing Leader/Deputy elections. The key ones are set out in Chapter 4. Paragraph 2, which I have reproduced in order below.B. Nomination
i. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 12.5 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
This applies to the vacancy that has arisen.
The Rule Book goes on, and states:
ii. Where there is no vacancy, nominations shall be sought each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
This would appear to apply to the position of Deputy Leader where, indeed, there is no vacancy. Ray Collins, Labour's General Secretary cited a Labour friendly lawyer's opinion to insist that nomination papers should not be issued and that the only way that a contest could be triggered would be if 52 Labour MPs signed a nomination paper for someone other that Harriet Harman.
That in itself begs the question of whether nomination papers are being issued to the PLP. But that is a side issue. The key question is WHEN should the PLP nomination threshold should be achieved?
The Rule Book goes on further, and states:
iii. Affiliated organisations, CLPs and Labour Members of the European Parliament may also nominate for each of the offices of leader and deputy leader. All nominees must be Commons members of the PLP.
The Rule Book makes no reference to such nominations having to have reached a threshold BEFORE being decided by either affiliated organisations, CLPs and Labour member of the European Parliament.
Let's suppose my understanding of the Rule is correct. It is clearly incumbent on any Party unit seeking to nominate to lobby and secure enough PLP support in time to get that person's name on the ballot paper. That would apply to both the Leader election and the possibility of a contest for Deputy.
So when might that be? Very helpfully, the Rule Book states in the next sub-section:
iv. Nominees shall inform the General Secretary in writing of the acceptance or otherwise of their nomination at least two clear weeks before the commencement of the procedures for voting laid out in rule C below. Unless written consent to nomination is received, nominations shall be rendered
null and void.
Under the timetable agreed by the NEC, which I sought to amend, but was disallowed by the Chair, the ballot papers are not due to be issued until 16 August. A strict interpretation of the Rule would imply 30 July for the filing of valid nominations.
So what are we to conclude from this?
1) Debate and the possibility of a campaign to identify a reluctant, but popular candidate by affiliated unions, CLPs and even Labour MEPs has been denied by the Party's ruling elite, having set a deadline of 27 May, not 30 July for valid nominations.
2) The refusal of the NEC to agreed to the issue of Deputy Leadership nomination papers is to abandon accountability and contrary to Rule
Toryboysnevergrowup commenting on my earlier posting mocked me:
Of course the Labour Party NEC may not have anything better to do than send out nomination papers to CLPs
If only s/he had just taken the trouble to read the section as a whole. Just the like the rest of the NEC. All I ask is that the Labour Party Procedures Committee, which is now charged with the conduct of the election(s), reflects and challenges the advice tendered on Tuesday. I would hope that my colleagues accept that:
1) any Commons member of the PLP seeking nomination should take part in the hustings from now until a new close of nominations in two months time.
20 nomination papers for Deputy Leader should be issued. Just imagine if any CLP chair told the AGM: no elections this year, there's no vacancy. Monsterous.
Both changes would underline the Party's resolute commitment to openness and accountability, and the widest possible debate ahead of the election(s) in the run up to our 2010 Conference in late September.
They would have a measurable impact on the Party's capacity to recruit new members, not just from among disaffected Liberal-Democrats, but the hundreds of thousands of members, who resigned or lapsed in protest against New Labour and potentially many more too young to remember Thatcher, but who yearn for a new politics, which only Labour can offer.
Let's do it.
Oh, BTW the NEC papers are littered with references to "supporting nominations". They are a fiction in this context. There are only two references to the term in the Rule Book, and both are in the context of CLPs supporting nominations in NEC elections.
1815 UPDATE Just been tipped off that the Procedures Committee which meets tomorrow will discuss the timetable, and is in listening mode!!!!