This was a special meeting, called to agree procedures for choosing the next leader and deputy leader. The Chair Jim Kennedy welcomed Hilary Benn MP, who replaces Sadiq Khan, and Peter Willsman, returning to the constituency section after Kate Osamor’s election as MP for Edmonton. Rachael Maskell and Conor McGinn are also now MPs, and their positions on the NEC will be filled at annual conference.
Tributes were paid to Ed Miliband’s dignity, decency and integrity, and I passed on supportive messages from members. Harriet Harman, interim leader for a second time, promised a full analysis of the results and their implications at the scheduled meeting on Tuesday 19 May. NEC members stressed that this must include the challenges in Scotland, the impact of UKIP who were runners-up in more than 100 seats, and the forthcoming Euro-referendum. She and others thanked everyone, including staff who worked way beyond their hours and job descriptions, and candidates, particularly in key marginals, who sacrificed jobs, families and security for Labour, who campaigned tirelessly for months, and who despite this did not win.
She highlighted the importance of taking on the Tory government from day one, and not allowing their narrative to dominate as it did in 2010. This was welcomed. Already the Tories were claiming to be the “party of working people” and this could not stand. The party also had to maintain stability and unity, and to establish why people who didn’t really care for the Tories did not come to Labour. NEC members regretted that ex-ministers from bygone eras were taking to the airwaves and causing further damage, but we cannot stop them. On a positive note, general secretary Iain McNicol reported that membership had reached 230,000, with 30,000 joining in just five days. Finances were stable, and Labour could and would rebuild.
A Lasting Legacy
When looking back on this period, Ed Miliband’s most significant contribution may have been to change the electoral college which made him leader to a form of one-person-one-vote which, uniquely among political parties, reaches beyond the membership to the wider public. The media still haven’t got a grip on this, but those entitled to vote are:
– paid-up party members;
– affiliated supporters (AS), who are members of a socialist society or members of an affiliated trade union who pay the political levy, who are on the electoral register, and who have signed up as an AS online or through their organisation. They do not pay any additional fee, and they are entitled to attend local party meetings without voting rights;
– registered supporters (RS), who do not belong to an affiliated organisation, but are on the electoral register and have signed up as supporters and paid a minimum fee of £3.
Mischief-makers suggest that this might give the unions even more influence, as they have nearly three million levy-payers who could become affiliated supporters. This is unlikely because (a) only about 10% voted last time, even when they were all sent ballot papers, and (b) many of those who did vote will have been full party members, and under the new system no-one will get more than one vote. I expect individual members to be in the majority.
Slow or Fast?
The key decision was over the timetable. My feedback was evenly split between finishing at the end of July and running through to September, and that was echoed by others who had consulted members and MPs. Some of my correspondents wanted a full debate on political direction first, and others hoped that fresh candidates could emerge given more time, but, for better or worse, the contest was already in full swing and could not be stuffed back into its box.
Those who favoured July felt that in 2010 the lengthy process let the coalition establish the mantra that Labour caused the financial crisis. However Harriet Harman was clear that the leadership contest must not be separate from effective opposition; candidates should be judged on their performance in attacking the government, not in attacking each other. July raised practical problems, as MPs do not return to Westminster till 27 May, and then the Queen’s speech is debated through to 4 June. New MPs need to meet the contenders, and nominations should not take place at a time when every MP should be focused on holding the government to account. After considerable discussion we reached consensus on the following:
Monday 8 June – MPs’ hustings for leader
Tuesday 9 June – MPs’ hustings for deputy leader
Tuesday 9 June – nominations and supporting nominations open for leader and deputy leader
Monday 15 June – MPs’ nominations close for leader (35 nominations required).
Wednesday 17 June – MPs’nominations close for deputy leader (35 nominations required)
Wednesday 17 June – hustings period opens
Friday 31 July – supporting nominations close
Wednesday 12 August – last day to join as a member, or to sign up as an affiliated or registered supporter.
Friday 14 August – ballot mailing dispatched
Thursday 10 September – ballot closes
Saturday 12 September – result announced at a special conference.
This finishes two weeks earlier than in 2010, and allows the new leader one session of prime minister’s questions and time to appoint their shadow cabinet before conference.
Further details will be worked out by the Procedures Committee, of which I am a member. Last time the sheer numbers of hustings were exhausting for candidates and for staff, and I asked that the party should record events and make them available online. Some of my correspondents suggested interviews by Jeremy Paxman and the Question Time panel, as in the general election run-up, to evaluate performance under pressure.
Finally, deadlines for constituency nominations for the National Policy Forum, the Conference Arrangements Committee and the National Constitutional Committee have been extended to 31 July from 10 June. The timetable for the London mayoral selection is unchanged except that the ballot will be held in August / September alongside those for the leader, the deputy leader, the NPF and the CAC. The £3 fee agreed for registered supporters will entitle them to vote in both the leadership and mayoral elections.