Hah. Who am I kidding?
The Labour Party National Executive Committee, a relative obscure body to most until yesterday, voted 18-14 following a six hour meeting last night to allow Jeremy Corbyn to be listed on the leadership ballot without having to clear a threshold of nominations by MPs and MEPs (currently 51). Considering the politics involved, this was the correct decision. That said, the NEC had an out; while focusing solely on the relevant clause in the rule book makes a strong case for the incumbent’s automatic inclusion, the rules taken in their entirety grant the NEC the power to basically make shit up as they go:
I don’t think Labour’s existing rules framework can reasonably be read so as to exclude Jeremy Corbyn from the coming leadership ballot of members. I agree with Mark Henderson. There is a real danger that trying to do so based on the existing rules framework set out in Chapter 4 clause II could be successfully challenged in court.
But the rule book gives the NEC power to vary that rules framework, and it would in my view be reasonable for it to do so in this unforeseen, unprovided for and disputed situation. If it does vary the rules to require the no-confidence incumbent to reach the same nomination threshold as his challengers, I doubt the courts would intervene.
Ultimately, like SCOTUS, the NEC is a political body rendering a political decision, and in this case from a pure (perhaps short term) political perspective, they made the right call. However, late in the meeting (some have argued that Corbyn dropped the ball; I had a link late last night but I’ve misplaced it) the NEC established different eligibility requirements for the upcoming leadership election. The £3 supporter is out, and a six-month freeze date is set for membership eligibility. While the BBC were reporting the cutoff date as 12 January last night, it’s still unclear (but it won’t be far off 12 January). New members of the party who joined after the freeze date are still eligible, but for a £25 surcharge (this being the Labour Party, clarity is a dangerous concept, so there are additional routes to the franchise discussed below). Some Corbyn supporters are, of course, outraged (!!!) at the eligibility requirements. For example (EDIT, to remove ambiguity, Peston is a journalist):
I don’t know exactly how it went down at the meeting, but however it did, it was a clever move to constrict the electorate. That said, the membership surge since Corbyn was named leader in September until Brexit was almost certainly motivated solely by Corbyn, but we don’t know how these 100,000 post-Brexit members would break in a leadership contest. Furthermore, this is not a new thing in the Labour Party. Eligibility to vote at the CLP and branch levels of the party (e.g. to vote on selection for parliamentary and council candidates) has long required a minimum six-month membership. Last summer, many were bemused that the barriers to voting for the leader of the entire party were virtually non-existent (£3) whereas a minimal six-month membership was (and remains) required before voting on selection for candidates to the local council.
There are also backdoors to voting for leader, which is being spread widely in Corbyn-supporting social media circles:
There are many things fascinating about this ongoing storm, but one that I’ve consistently found the most bemusing is the ratio of energy expended in some circles in the Labour Party at perceived internal “enemies” to the energy expended against the Conservative Party. My feed is full of 38Degrees petitions about how Labour should scrap the outrageous franchise requirements for the leadership election, but barely a mention that, umm, hey? we’re getting a new Prime Minister later today who was elected by 199 votes out of an entire electorate of 329. Instead of focusing his energy on the real opposition, the shadow chancellor instead pointed out that a significant number of his fellow Labour MPs are “fucking useless” as plotters.
Moving on, in skimming the rest of the comments from yesterday, I do want to make one point of clarification. I don’t necessarily believe that the PLP should have supremacy over the membership writ large. However, I do think that the two should be structurally required to work together and agree. In short, a vote of no confidence in the party leader should require the leader to resign (and disallowed from standing in the subsequent election). I also believe that the PLP should somehow have an equal say to that of the membership in electing the leader. Giving the Parliamentary MPs an equal weight in this process is really the only way that parliamentary government (or opposition) can work. Hypothetically, if a snap election were to be held by the Autumn, Labour either wins or attains a plurality of MPs, yet an overwhelming majority of those MPs neither support nor can work with the party leader, who becomes the Prime Minister? Nicola Sturgeon? Balanced against this is that the membership should not have to accept just anybody as leader that the PLP forces upon them. How to do this effectively (and in a manner acceptable to all parties) is an open question. But, given current conditions (a leader who has strong support amongst the members, is happy to ignore tacit norms, yet has at best the support of only 20% of the PLP and of those, few are considered heavyweights or really acceptable to the broader electorate as a government in waiting) an infinite loop of dysfunction is likely.
To make things more lively, Owen Smith announced that he’s likewise challenging Jeremy Corbyn, although he still needs to gather the 51 endorsements of MPs/MEPs. Obviously, the coup against Corbyn didn’t have much of a plan beyond an elegantly timed cascade of resignations from the shadow cabinet. It was assumed that he would conform to the tacit norm by resigning, so why bother planning for the unexpected. He didn’t resign, so here we are.
If I’m Theresa May, my first order of business is a snap election. The opposition are the very definition of disarray, and this has the side benefit of pushing Article 50 back several more months. I’m sure there are risks to the Conservatives of an election (the potential for a greater UKIP presence in Parliament at the expense of Labour, or that she could lose . . . ) but it seems to me that the benefits outweigh the risk, especially when her own majority remains just as small as David Cameron’s.