It is worth considering how the Labour Party got into this mess.
Ed Milliband stood down as leader of the Labour Party following the 2015 General Election. He did this mainly because the Conservatives had won an overall majority. This was to the surprise of everyone including the Conservatives, although they won’t admit it now. As a result, the Labour Party held an election as set out in the Labour Party rulebook.
The Rule Book
The relevant rule says
In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 15 percent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
This is a really important part of the leadership process. It ensures that, if elected, the leader of the party has reasonable support in the parliamentary party. This matters because the leader must form a cabinet or shadow cabinet. The support of the party is not a nice-to-have, it is vital in running a functioning administration or opposition.
Six candidates formally stood for election. Before the ballot Mary Creagh and Chuka Umunna stood down .
The four who achieved the required 15% (35 nominations from members of the PLP) went onto the ballot. They were Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, and Liz Kendall.
The origin of the nominations is worth considering. Jeremy Corbyn was nominated by Frank Field, who has descibed Mrs. Thatcher as a hero and is unlikely to be a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn: he say he did it to spark debate. David Lammy actually said
there is enough that Jeremy and I disagree on to mean that I won’t be voting for him
But still David Lammy nominated Jeremy Corbyn to have “the broadest and most open debate possible”. Sadiq Khan, now London Mayor, only supported Jeremy Corbyn to “broaden the debate”. Margaret Beckett has since described herself as a moron for nominating Jeremy Corbyn. They all did it for the best of motives, to widen the debate. They had no intention of voting for him. But by doing this they subverted the protection provided by the rules. They allowed the nomination of a candidate that they could not work with.
The £3 Members
The worst is yet to come, though. In order to be inclusive, the party had allowed the participation of “supporters”. To register as a supporter you joined the party as an affiliate member for £3 – effectively buying a vote and even before the result was known there were calls for the vote to be paused and eventually 56,000 voters were declared ineligible as the applicants were from other parties, or were entirely fictional people.
Despite all these issues and problems, the vote continued. Jeremy Corbyn won the first round with 59.5% of the vote on a 76.3% turnout.
So where does that leave the party? Definitely with a leader that the PLP find unacceptable. Had just the four MPs mentioned above not decided to nominate Jeremy Corbyn, he wouldn’t have been on the ballot paper. It almost certainly left the party with a leader that the membership doesn’t want either – it is almost certain that the sudden influx of new members carried the day. They subverted the double lock that is there to protect the party by trying to “do the right thing”.
So now the Labour Party has a leader that has little support in the PLP, probably not a majority amongst real party members and definitely not in the country!
So then there is a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, in which 172 Labour MPs voted that they have no confidence in their leader and, although it has no standing in Labour Party rules, they felt that this demonstration was clear enough that he would stand down. He decided that he wouldn’t.
So to make a point Angela Eagle decides to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the party. Even before she does this, and certainly afterwards, she, people suspected of supporting her and – horrifyingly – their families, are subject to bullying. These people are then further vilified by Corbyn supporters suggesting that they are weak for even complaining about the harassment. Then we have the problem of the rather ambiguously worded rule that applies in this situation:
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 percent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
The question arises about the rule. Does it mean that an existing leader requires 20 percent of Labour MPs to nominate them (as in “any nomination”)? Do only challengers need 20 percent? After all, selecting the leadership of a major political party needs some ambiguity, don’t you think?
The NEC and the High Court
So the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) makes a decision. It didn’t matter which way the decision went – there would have been a legal challenge either way – and the courts, not the real members of the party, will decide the leader of the opposition.
This is ironic. Recently the UK voted in the most significant vote in a generation to leave the EU. Part of the Leave campaign was about the EU being run by unelected elites. The country voted to leave the EU. Yet since that vote 199 Conservative MPs elected the Prime Minister and it is likely that a High Court Judge will decide the leader of the opposition. And he is unlikely to even be a member of the Labour Party.