You Are Mistaken, Prescott And Kinnock
July 4, 2016
by Martin Odoni
There still seems to be a running attempt to make the nomination rules for a Labour leadership contest sound ambiguous. The latest Labour members to insist that Jeremy Corbyn requires nominations from the Parliamentary Labour Party in order to defend his leadership are former Deputy leader John Prescott, and former leader Neil Kinnock.
Why they are saying this, I am unsure. They may have misunderstood, or they may have darker reasons, but either way, an analysis of the rules themselves shows that they are incorrect.
The rulebook of Labour Party membership is available online in PDF format, and the rules for a leadership contest are laid out very clearly in Chapter 4, starting on page 15. Here is what it says about the selection-of-candidates stage; –
“Clause 2 Subsection 2A
i .In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 12.5 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.”
This sub-clause does not apply at all in the present instance, as there is no vacancy for the leadership. Jeremy Corbyn has not resigned the leadership, therefore he is still leader and there is no vacancy. This is the whole reason why a leadership contest would be required by those who do not wish him to remain. So he does not require support of 12.5 per cent (in the present case, 32) of the PLP (which he has anyway, due to the 40 MPs who backed him as leader. If necessary, Corbyn could even use this as a ‘back door’ route onto the ballot – by resigning the leadership so there is a vacancy, and then getting the 40 to nominate him as a candidate at the new leadership contest).
“ii. Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP.”
Sub-clause ii is quite explicit and specific. It refers to ‘challengers’ i.e. a candidate for the leadership who does not presently hold that position and is attempting to take it from the candidate who does. There is no mention here, or anywhere else I can find in the rulebook, of the incumbent leader requiring a nomination by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party at all.
And no, the incumbent cannot be interpreted as being one of the challengers. Such an interpretation would be a nonsense. By definition, the incumbent is not challenging himself for the leadership, nor can he be said to be challenging the other candidates for something if they do not possess it. The other candidates are challenging the incumbent, not the other way around. Therefore, Corbyn is categorically not a challenger, therefore he is not subject to the same conditions as any other candidate at the nomination stage. Corbyn does not require anyone in the PLP to put his name forward, let alone 20 per cent of the PLP.
This is quite clear-cut. It is only ambiguous if the party applies new definitions to words altogether, which of course would make the entire idea of having a rulebook a little pointless.
As for how Prescott or Kinnock have managed to get this wrong, we can only speculate. That Kinnock felt he was compelled to get a nomination in 1988 may be a reflection of the rules as they were at the time. I am not sure of exactly how they were worded back then, but I do know that they have been amended subsequently on several occasions*. Alternatively, it may just be that Kinnock never bothered checking the rules when challenged by Tony Benn, and so was not aware that he need not have bothered with securing nominations at all.
That is Kinnock’s problem, not Corbyn’s.
*EDIT 05-07-2016: Mike Sivier at Vox Political has shared the following screencap of a Tweet from Thomas Gardiner, a Labour councillor, confirming the nominations rule was explicitly changed by the Labour Party Conference in 2010.