Guest blog by Matthew-one of my parliamentary team.
Shadow Cabinet elections: Open democracy or political open prison?
Clive Betts MP has this week introduced a motion to amend PLP rules and re-introduce shadow cabinet elections. Abolished by Ed Milliband in 2011 as part of the changes that allowed registered supports to vote in Labour leadership elections, Mr. Betts has claimed that the move will re-unite and re-democratise the party. However, the move is more likely to ensure Shadow Cabinet meetings are like an open prison for Jeremy Corbyn, rather than ensure democracy stretches out throughout the party.
Such a move would require the support of the NEC, party conference and two thirds of Labour MPs, and as such may struggle to get support. It is also, not a particularly democratic move. Another election does not a process more democratic make. It would ensure that Corbyn was flanked by the people who resigned in order to ensure he did the same, or worse, people who were so shocked by his election as leader last September that they found themselves unable to serve in his shadow cabinet at all. It would not unify the Party, merely the PLP. The Parliamentary Labour Party find themselves out of touch with the membership, and orchestrating another coup, no matter how democratic, is unlikely to appeal them to the membership.
If democracy is the real aim of such an amendment, then the amendment should extend the shadow cabinet election franchise to the whole membership of the Party. If those who support this amendment disagree to that contention, it is clear democracy is not their goal. Under this system it would be hard to see Corbyn’s closest allies, such as John McDonell, Dianne Abbott, Richard Burgon or Clive Lewis, being elected. Even those who are not supporters of Corbyn, yet remained in his Shadow Cabinet striving for the unity the PLP seek, may struggle to be elected to the top table if such a system was used. A compromise position could be to have an election for two thirds of the roles in the Shadow Cabinet, whilst allowing Corbyn to appoint the other third on a discretionary basis. The proposed amendment states that ‘The precise number of members to be elected and the method of electing them should be recommended to the PLP by the Parliamentary Committee.’ As such a move would be possible and potentially the best means to achieve unity, rather than an act designed to bind Jeremey Corbyn in political chains.
Mr. Corbyn is himself no stranger to shadow cabinet elections, he himself having stood in one previously. Jeremy received a grand total of 31 votes when he stood for election to the shadow cabinet of none other than Tony Blair in 1996. To put Corbyn’s vote share into context, Harriet Harman was the candidate with the fewest votes who got elected to the shadow cabinet in 1996 with 149 votes. Margaret Beckett received the most votes with 251, with other unsuccessful candidates, such as, Ann Clwyd and Paul Flynn receiving 94 and 61 votes respectively. Although these figures, do not perhaps reveal much concerning Jeremy Corbyn’s electability, they do belie his historical popularity amongst his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, or lack thereof. It is unlikely that figures determined only a few weeks ago to remove Jeremy from office, would be willing to appease him and elect his supporters to the Shadow Cabinet and as such this is not so much an act of unity, but instead an act of control.