Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Watson: stop 'supporters' voting in future leadership elections.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has called for party rules to be changed to exclude registered supporters from taking part in electing the party leader.

He told a meeting of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC), the BBC reported today, that their participation had been 'unpopular' and called for the reinstatement of the previous franchise based on members, trades unionists and MPs electing the leader.

Last year 105,598 people paid £3 to sign up as supporters, 84% of whom voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Ahead of this years race the fee was raised to £25 and it is believed that 129,000 people signed up; there are no prizes for guessing who most of them are going to vote for.

Supporters were given a say in choosing the party leader by Ed Milliband in 2013, although they have been around since the days of New Labour.

Watson, the BBC reports, told the NEC that the change to rules had been 'rushed' and had proved 'unpopular', principally with MPs who felt it had allowed the far left to infiltrate the party.

He said the proposed change to the rules was not intended as a threat to Jeremy Corbyn; allies of the soon, probably, to be reconfirmed leader see them as an attempt to prevent the circumstances that brought him into office ever occurring again.

The deputy leader also wants to see members of the shadow cabinet elected by MPs for the first time since 2011, ending the practice of the front bench team being picked by the leader. This, he said, would help Labour to 'put the band back together' ahead of a possible early election.

Although it is not believed the intend putting forward an alternative proposal supporters of Mr Corbyn want members and party activists to also have a role in electing the shadow cabinet.

On one level almost everything the Labour Party does at the moment seems like rearranging the deck-chairs on a sinking ship. This latest displacement activity though does at least offer the opportunity to watch the Blairites being hoist on a petard of their own making.

Back in the day signing up supporters was the clever wheeze of the moment, they were seen as being more pliable than pesky old fashioned members with their antiquated ideas about having a say in party policy.

The flaw in the cunning plan was that because it was as easy to do as ordering a pizza almost anyone could do it. The left saw an opportunity in this, grabbed it with both hands and inadvertently changed the Labour Party forever.

Tom Watson is a man with sensible instincts and he is right that Labour needs to change its system for electing the party leader, the year long soap opera that will end with Jeremy Corbyn being reconfirmed as leader has been a costly and divisive distraction.

The trouble is he is stuck in the old ways of thinking, he either can't see or won't accept that like it or not, and most MPs very much do not, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader changed Labour forever. However tight they close their eyes and wish the Blairites can never will back into being the old dispensation where party members were seen but not heard.

Although there was a patronising popularism about it Watson was on the right track when he said Labour have to 'put the band back together'; meaning they have to stop being a mob of competing egos and start playing like a team.

That means the keepers of the New Labour flame holding their noses and accepting the brave new world they now inhabit and the Corbynistas growing up enough to realise that idealistic passion doesn't excuse prejudice and always needs to be tempered by common sense.

The alternative is more division, more bitterness and even less influence for a party that is still, even if it hasn't always behaved like it, the official opposition.

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