Ken Livingstone has popped up in the media again, acting as usual these days like the Corbynite’s wandering Id. This time it’s about how (he thinks anyhow) Corbyn and his acolytes plan to bypass the PLP and rule the party forever more. It involves removing the PLP from the nominations process altogether, via the National Executive Committee.
“The idea of Labour MPs having a veto over who stands is nonsense. The Labour party before Blair was a genuinely open, democratic one. Jeremy’s bringing that back. Exactly how isn’t going to be resolved until the annual conference. But that’s what we want back.”
That quote from Livingstone is amazing on so many levels. Let’s start with the basic idea he’s putting forth that taking Labour MPs out of the leadership question altogether is “nonsense” and that it was Tony Blair who radically changed the way Labour elects its MPs, and furthermore that Jeremy wants to bring the old, more democratic way of doing things “back”.
Up until the 1983 leadership contest, the only people who had ever had a say on who became leader of the Labour Party were the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The MPs voted on it, and whomever got the most votes from amongst Labour MPs became the new leader. That was how Michael Foot was elected in 1980, for example. After 1980 it was decided to adopt a new system which involved an electoral college made up of the MPs, the members of the party (involved in the leadership contest for the first time), and trade union members. It shifted around in terms of weight from time to time, but the basic idea was that the MPs got a third, the members a thirds, the unions a third.
So how did Tony Blair change the system around how Labour elects its leaders? Not in the slightest bit. So quite how Blair changed a system that he didn’t change at all is a mystery to me. It seems to me that Ken has either forgotten or has always been ignorant of his own party’s history. In the last parliament, Ed Miliband changed the system to what it is at present, which is simply one member, one vote, but with the PLP still having the final say on who appears on the ballot in the form of minimum nominations. So in other words, the current system represents the least power Labour MPs have ever had over who becomes the leader in the history of the party.
If Ken Livingstone wants to take Labour MPs our of the nomination process via the NEC, he’s welcome to try. I only ask him to stop spouting ahistoric nonsense about his own party. If the Corbyn clan wants to initiate some way of electing the leader that for the first time in the history of the Labour Party does not include Labour MPs in any way shape or form, they should at least be upfront about that fact instead of trying to convince people they are attempting to take everything back to some pre-Blair idyll.