The Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is meeting on Tuesday to decide whether Jeremy Corbyn will automatically be on the ballot paper in the upcoming leadership election. Legal advice obtained by the trade union Unite states Corbyn should be a contender by default, but Labour’s General Secretary is reported to have opposing advice.
Nonetheless, there is a vital detail that shows the 2016 rules clearly state Corbyn should be on the ballot.
Here is the passage in dispute:
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 combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
It is the leadership hopefuls or “potential challengers” who must seek nominations, not the present Labour leader. Referring to the nominations as “challengers” implies that the current leader must be on the ballot, or he cannot be challenged.
Within this clause, nominations are defined as “challengers” – not ‘contenders’ or ‘candidates’. While the present leader is the one being challenged, having already been nominated and won a previous election. Therefore, Corbyn is not included when the passage states “any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP”.
Whereas if there is no sitting leader, the rules are as follows:
i. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 15 per cent of the combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
When there is a vacancy, nominations are not defined as “challengers”. Every contender in the election must get the required amount of support from Labour politicians.
But, in Corbyn’s case, there is no vacancy, so only the challenging nominations must get enough backing from politicians. The very act of mounting a challenge does not create a vacancy. As barrister and former government lawyer Carl Gardner writes:
If the mere fact of a challenge in itself created a vacancy, then you’d have the bizarre situation where Angela Eagle began needing 20% but then suddenly needed only 15% instead, under clause II(2)(B)(i), either the moment she announced her challenge or when she’d already got 20%. There would never be a “no vacancy” situation and clauseII(2)(B)(ii) would have no meaning. This is obviously wrong.
There would be no need for a ‘no vacancy’ rule if the mere act of challenging the leader created a vacancy.
The rules rightfully respect the democratic mandate of the sitting Labour leader – this mandate must be overcome in an election if the leadership is to change. Whether or not they regret it now, the MPs who originally nominated Corbyn for leader handed the decision to the membership. Accordingly, the rules clearly state that the choice of whether he stays remains with the membership.
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Featured image via Labour website.