UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Collins: PLP leadership election power untouched

One should not imagine that the proposal from the Collins Review, that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are to have their section of the Party's Electoral College removed means a significant reduction in their influence over who the leader of the Labour Party will be. That power remains largely intact due to the fact that the PLP are to retain sole control over leadership nominations, as well as the figure where Collins proposes the threshold is to be set.

Based on the nominations and first preference votes of Labour M.Ps in the six leadership contests since 1980 when there has been a vacancy for leader, compared to a challenge to an incumbent, a nomination threshold of 15% of the PLP would have resulted in there being only one occasion where more than two candidates would have made it on to the ballot paper. That sole instance would have been in 1994 when Blair, Prescott and Beckett would have attained the required number of votes.

Although much play has been made of the Collins proposal being set at 15% as compared to the originally floated figure of 25%, the truth is that historically such a difference would have had little real impact in the number of eligible candidates. Only two contests, over and above that of 2007 when Gordon Brown was unopposed even on a 12.5% threshold, would have seen a sole candidate on a nomination requirement of 25% and those were in 1992 and 1994.

In 1994 however it is very likely that such a threshold would have resulted in the movement one way or another of nominations between John Prescott and Margaret Beckett that would have meant one of them would have got onto the ballot paper to ensure a contest against Tony Blair, between them Prescott and Beckett received almost a 40% share of the PLP vote.

In 1992 there is very strong evidence that John Smith persuaded a number of his own supporters to nominate Bryan Gould in order to guarantee an election rather than a coronation, safe in the knowledge of his huge lead in the CLP and trade union sections of the Electoral College, and it is very likely that he could have ensured that Gould got 25% of the nominations if he had wished to do so. Gould in fact received just under 23% of the share of the PLP vote.

Much comment has been made since the publication of the Collins Review that the proposed changes from the Electoral College to an OMOV system made up of Party members, affiliated members and supporters is a significant shift in the balance of power away from the Parliamentary Labour Party in favour of the grassroots, and is being promoted as an important part of the trade-offs between different sections of the Party. The reality is that in terms of leadership elections, history shows us that the PLP has given little away and little has changed.

Gordon McKay