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 UK Labour 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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.
- 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)
- Then the voting starts. Three different groups get to vote, and they all have equal strength – 1/3 each.
- The first group is members of the Parliamentary Labour Party – this is the 350MPs plus the 13 MEPs.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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%
- 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%.
- 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.