How to roll Gordon Brown

Labour’s result of only 15.7% in the European elections has not quite been enough to knock off Gordon Brown, but a challenge still can’t be ruled out.

A reader suggested people may be interested in how the leadership elections work – it is far more complicated than in New Zealand where basically Caucus can change the Leader at any time by an absolute majority.

The rules and process for UK Labour is this:

  1. Nominations – Labour Members of the House of Commons are the only people who can nominate someone to be Leader (or Deputy Leader) and only a Member of the Commons can be nominated.
  2. If there is a vacancy (such as a death as with John Smith or retirement with Tony Blair) then you need at least 12.5% of current MPs nominating you to be validly nominated.
  3. If there is no vacancy (ie you wish to challenge the sitting Leader) you need at least 20% of current MPs nominating you to be validly nominated,
  4. Labour currently has 350 MPs in the Commons. This means you need 70 MPs to nominate you to challenge Brown, or 44 MPs if he resigns.
  5. Supporting nominations can be made by any of the 646 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), any affiliate (unions generally) or any of the 13 Labour Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)
  6. Then the voting starts. Three different groups get to vote, and they all have equal strength – 1/3 each.
  7. The first group is members of the Parliamentary Labour Party – this is the 350MPs plus the 13 MEPs.
  8. The second group is all members of the Constituency Labour Party (CLPS) – several hundred thousand people. So an MP’s vote counts for a lot more.
  9. The third group is the affiliates – not the union bosses, but the individual members of any affiliates (so long as not members of another party).
  10. The percentage vote for a candidate in each group is totalled up to get a total vote. For example in 1994 Tony Blair got 60.5% of the PLP, 58.2% of the CLPs, and 52.3% of the affiliates.  This gave him a total 57.0% of the vote.
  11. The ballots are preferential, where candidates are ranked from 1 downwards. If no candidates gets 50% combined, then the lowest candidate drops out, and their first preferences reallocated to the next preferences.
  12. For example in the 2007 Deputy Leadership election there were six candidates and no one got over 20% on the first count, so it went through to five rounds until Harriet Harman beat Alan Johnson by 50.4% to 49.6%
  13. Johnson beat Harman due to the membership at large. The PLP backed Johnson by 8% over Harman and the unions by 3%. But members at large favoured Harman by 13%.
  14. The results of the election get announced at the annual or a special conference.

I suspect Brown may survive until the election now, because his supporters are warning MPs that if they force a leadership change, the new leader will be morally obliged to call an immediate general election. But sooner or later the process will kick into play.

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