We need a recall vote on the leader before the next election

by Trevor Fisher

Early in the Labour leadership campaign, the idea of a recall election was floated. The Newsnight discussion involving all four candidates on June 17th discussed the idea without much depth but did suggest the mechanisms already existed.

The issue has gone off the agenda but it is time to renew the debate, before the election result is announced. It is already being suggested that if the wrong candidate is elected then there will be parliamentary plots. But the issue is for the party, not the MPs. A recall should be accepted practice, whoever comes out on top in September.

The current system without automatic recall, allowing a leader an indefinite period up to an election – and perhaps beyond – is absurd. Currently a leader can last for an open period until they decide to resign, thus Attlee lasted for twenty years on the basis of having won the leadership in a PLP vote, only resigning after two election defeats.

It is a worth considering what would have happened if Blair had not volunteered to stand down after the 2005 election – I suspect he would be there today. It has been 80 years since the Labour party last removed a leader, George Lansbury, in 1935. Unlike the Tory party, Labour does not remove unsuccessful leaders.

The problem currently staring Labour in the face is that it has to win voters over in a hostile climate, which has been the case since 2010. Giving Ed Miliband the whole of a four year eight month period was a mistake, which will be repeated this autumn if there is no recall strategy.

The problems facing Labour under Miliband’s ineffective leadership were clear even before the European elections gave UKIP its break through, at which point Milband should have been removed. Miliband was not a vote winner and his personal rating were below that of the party – unlike Cameron’s opinion poll position. Yet only an ineffective plot among MP s at the end of 2014 resulted, and Miliband ambled on to a worst result than anyone could have predicted.

It will be argued, particularly from the winner’s camp in September that a leadership vote would be destabilising in the run up to a general election. If the leader was confirmed, that would not be the case, but it is the leader’s performance which must decide.

Even if the leader is doing reasonably well, we know that Cameron will resign after the Euro referendum. There will be a new Tory leader, so why not a new Labour leader? Or confirm the existing one? But however well or badly the Labour leader is performing, after two years or so there should be an automatic chance to consider alternatives.

Labour’s reluctance to challenge its leader since Lansbury is a curious part of its culture. The Tories have never had any problem, even removing Thatcher in 1990 when it was clear she would lead to defeat. They then destabilised John Major, showing that they had lost the plot. Having removed one Prime Minister, they then forgot that he was popular, which Thatcher had not been when they removed her. Removing popular leaders is not a good idea. But having the facility to remove unpopular or unsuccessful leaders certainly is.

We do not know whether the leader elected in September will be successful or not. But making sure that the leader is automatically endorsed or removed is good practice. The current leadership contest is a bureaucratic and expensive nightmare, and could not be repeated. But there is no reason why an affirmative ballot could not be held at Labour conference, and no reason why this could not take place in 2017. No leader is indispensable.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007

8 Responses to “We need a recall vote on the leader before the next election”

  1. john P Reid says:

    is hypothetical, would we have ousted Blair in 2000, as Labours choice for mayor came third, no of course not, plus we did pretty well in the Council election of 2014 so ,unless there’s a miracle we won’t do as well in 2018, as such if we do bad in the council elections and Jeremy Corbyns leader can we blame him no the party is broke, and in debt and has lack of good organisation ,in areas outside our comfort zone,

    if Jeremy wins stick to him tlil 2020,tehn if we lose by a landslide it’ll make all but the “we lost as it wasn’t left wing enough” brigade realise their ideas are off putting,and yes they’ll be a few its better to stick with being far left lose by a mile as it’s amoral victory”

    and who’ll replace him, not one of these who just lost, unless they lost by a inch, there couldn’t be a blairite ,as the Blairite candidate is likely to get 8% of the vote at the count in 2 weeks, and Dan Jarvis doens’t want it, who could hold the party together Jon Cryer?

    maybe Jeremy could put himself up for re-election based on members, affilaites and yes ask £3 if we can trace them whop voted this time, then if he’s as unpopular as predicted the party could get someone else in ,but, who would say, they were challenging him ,which is what it would be

  2. Madasafish says:

    Recall will not work.

    WHO exactly is going to recall the Leader?

    The membership? Err unlikely.
    MPs ? So far they are leaderless, have no leader in sight (Cooper, Kendall and Burnham are the Three Wise Moneys – useless except as ornaments) . And they are spineless…Who stood up to Brown’s bullying? No-one.
    The unions? Corbyn is their man.

    Ain’t going to happen in my view.

  3. Richard says:

    Interesting idea and I am sure Corbyn will be happy to put himself up for scrutiny should he win, given his approach and view of democracy, and once on the rule book then the left can try to remove a right wing leader in future. Unstable leadership will be a right wingers argument though, right before they remove it from the rules and the MP’s make absolutely sure they don’t let another left winger into any leadership election.
    Interesting though that mandatory reselection was opposed by the right way back when.
    Also, given your antipathy to Millibard would you send me the link showing where you proposed this idea when he became leader, or is it reserved for those you really don’t like?

  4. Mike says:

    Recall doesn`t have to be chaotic. Remember the Conservatives have an annual vote of MPs. Sir Anthony Meyer challenged Lady Thatcher in 1989, followed by Heseltine in 1990. The mechanism is there but rarely used. Why couldn’t Labour do that? Maybe the culture of the far left is such that it would get used a lot.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Would the deputy have to stand down,if there’s calls to oust the leader, not based on the leader not being that popular, but Margret Beckett out herself up for reelection in 94 so could stand for leader,
    Just thinking if Jeremy wins on the £3 voters and the 3 most likely choices for deputy win in £3 votes, Tom, Stella and Ben, then would their deputy leadership be valid,if the leader stood down

  6. swatantra says:

    thanks trev, I’ve been saying that for the last 3 months; glad someone with intelligence has picked up on it.
    it’ll work; it’ll either reconfirm jc, or give him the boot, if he is not delivering.
    5 years is a hellava long tome to trust any politcian

  7. David Walker says:

    A recall is a good idea, but it should be entirely voted on by members who are not MPs. MPs will vote for whatever affects their own careers in the most positive way. Unions should not have a say, either.

    Would Miliband have been ousted, if there was a compulsory recall in 2013? It could have gone either way, I guess. He was doing badly, but maybe not quite badly enough to lose his job.

    Personally, I think that ordinary Labour members should vote to keep or ditch the current leader at every annual conference. This would solve many of the party’s problems, at a stroke and a lot more people would want to become members.

    Any MP should be able to join the ballot, with only first preference being polled. 28 days is long enough for the whole process to take place. Britain has had no real government opposition for months, which is ridiculous.

  8. John P Reid says:

    Swantantra, you say that the leader should stand down if unpopular and are Backing Jetemy, who if he doesn’t stand down when unpopular and then leads us to utter defeat, it wouldn’t have been such a good idea to back him in the first place

    But popularity is hard to define, the Tories win the mayor election 2012 but lost the EU ,council vote 2014, so we’re either Eds fault or his success?

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