Sunday, 13 April 2008

Supporting the Calder Valley rule change

A proposal will be before this year's Annual Conference to change the rules governing leadership elections. It is a modest proposal. It will only have an impact when there is a vacancy for the role. But, small though it is, it is of the utmost importance.

There are members who could have been in the party for nearly 15 years who have never had the opportunity to vote in a leadership election. What happened last year was not just bad for us, bad for supporters of John McDonnell, bad for the left - it was bad for the party, it was bad for all party members, it was bad for Gordon Brown. It is very important that it cannot happen again.
There are other ways to ensure a contest.

You could take the Tory approach - so the membership always get to choose between two candidates. But why restrict our role so greatly?

Some will say - it shouldn't be difficult to find a candidate who can persuade an eighth of the PLP to support them; they should endear themselves to their colleagues, etc, etc. Fine. Fair enough. But why should it be just up to MPs to decide who that endearing, 'credible' candidate is? The whole reason we have a preferential voting system is so the voting itself makes that decision, not cabals of powerful men. Those who make this point would presumably have preferred a different left candidate for the leadership. Well the only part of the system where 'splitting the vote' is a problem is the nominations: otherwise why not have multiple candidates and let the various rounds in the college decide which is 'credible' rather than twenty-or-so MPs?

Look at the leadership election of 1976. It was bad for many reasons: it didn't involve members, it didn't involve trade unionists. What it did have were six candidates, representing really quite nuanced differences of opinion in our movement. Tony Crosland only got 17 votes in the first round (about 5% of the MPs who voted). Was Crosland a maverick without support who should have been frozen out at the nominations phase? I don't think so. Denis Healey only got about 9% in the first round. Imagine if that election had gone to an electoral college? People would have been musing on whether to give their first preferences to Benn or Foot, Healey or Callaghan, Jenkins or Crosland. It would have given members a real boost, it would have given whoever was successful (and I suspect it may still have been Callaghan, though it isn't certain) a real flavour of what opinion in the party was. It would have involved the unions. Who knows it may even have won us the '79 election?

So, when thinking about this 'little', modest change, you should also think about the potentially enormous difference it could make. Push for your conference delegates to support it!

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