What the Labour leadership election rules say about removing a leader

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour party system of electing a leader for an indefinite period makes sensible recall procedures impossible. The logical reason for an open ended term was ended once the Fixed Parliament Act was passed in 2010, as the need to have a leader ready in opposition to fight an election was ended. Up to then, the government could call an election at any time so Labour had to be ready. Now the government is able to replace the Prime Minister within a five year term, Labour also gained this freedom while in opposition.

Previously the Labour party could be caught out by a snap election with no leader in place, as it was in 1935.

The fact that there is no fixed term of office, allows mechanisms for challenging and replacing the leader while in opposition, which are indeed part of the rule book. However the rules are vague and certainly do not provide a mandatory system. Instead they either allow a leader to go on for the full term – currently 4 years and 8 months once the NEC had decreed a four month campaign, which is not within the rules*. Alternatively, members of the PLP are allowed to challenge the leader and indeed apparently can do so on a yearly basis if they wish.

The rules decree the currently operative three section system of full members, registered supporter and affiliated members (mainly unions), but I have not been able to find a definition of their rights and responsibilities, but it is clear this is not One Member One Vote (OMOV) and the phrase ‘One Person One Vote’ is used.(Chapter 4, Clause 2, Section C clause viii). This is not the only ambiguity in the rules, but there is no ambiguity that the rules allow a challenge to the leader by forcing a ballot.

How the ballot would be carried out is not in the rule book as far as I can see, but the current postal-electronic ballot and complex vetting procedures, which are inefficient and not actually specified in the rules as far as I can see, could not be repeated easily. The resources involved are considerable, potentially ruinous and could not be operated especially if the challenges became annual, which appears to be currently possible and hardly desirable.

A challenge or recall is allowed by rule: it simply is not mandatory. The opening gambit is page 4 sub clause ii – “the Leader/Deputy shall be elected or re-elected from among Commons members of the PLP in accordance with procedural rule Chapter 4 clause II below, at a Party conference convened in accordance with Clause VI above”

Clause VI above simply says “Party conference shall meet regularly once in every year and also at such times as it may be convened by the NEC”, thus implying the election procedures do not have to be at the Autumn Party conference.

But there is a contradiction. Chapter clause II,  Rule D(i) states that “When the PLP is in opposition, the election of the leader and deputy leader shall take place at each annual session of party conference”. How this is compatible with a one person one vote system is unfathomable: Conference is a delegate body. This is not however the main problem, which is the system of challenging the leader.

Chapter V clause II says that ‘the leader and deputy leader shall be elected separately in accordance with rule C below unless rule E applies”. C is Voting Procedure, setting out a one person one vote basis – specifically clause C viii. The three types of participant are set out in clause C vi “votes shall be case in a single section, by Labour Party Members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters”. Rule E is procedure in a vacancy, which applied to the election following Miliband’s resignation.

The contentious issue is procedure when there is no vacancy. This is covered by Chapter 4, Clause II, rule 2 B ii. This crucial rule states  “Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought be potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case nominations must be supported by 20% of the Commons members of the PLP”. Thus an annual challenge is possible. It must take place before Annual Conference, and this is in line with D(i) cited above. However this contradicts the stipulation that the NEC can call a conference for the purpose. The rules appear to be stating that there can be a challenge in any year to the leader, but only at Annual Conference. If so, a one person one vote ballot is impossible.

It is hardly reasonable to allow an annual challenge to the Leader, but the rules seem to allow this. It is certainly not possible to have a one person one vote system if there is a challenge made at conference, and there must be serious questions about the viability of the current system given the allegations of entryism, and that some members have not had their ballot papers.

Irrespective of the current arguments, however, it would be sensible to have a rule approved system for a mid-term chance to recall the leader, without this being based on the vagaries of PLP politics: the leader is the leader of the Party, as well as the PLP. This would remove ambiguity, but would have to take place at annual conference. There is no other practical way of doing it. Recall can strengthen an existing leader if successfully resisted, but give Labour a second bite of the cherry if the leader is patently failing. Miliband might have survived a challenge after two years – whether he would have survived a challenge after three or four years is debatable. But the opportunity of recall should have existed.

Looking forward, the present PM has said he will resign before the election. Labour will face a new leader, and the problem it faced in 1990 when the Tories removed Thatcher for the more popular Major. For this and other reasons, it is foolish to elect a leader for one set of circumstances only to find they change. While there is a possibility of changing the leaders mid-term, the current procedures are complex and contradictory. They should be revised at the 2016 conference to allow a more sensible system of leadership recall.

The rules do not fix a timetable. Instead they prescribe a framework within which the NEC has considerable flexibility.

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

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30 Responses to “What the Labour leadership election rules say about removing a leader”

  1. swatantra says:

    Good points. That it is silly to elect a Leader for the whole term, when the circumstances will have changed in 5 years anyway. And the Annual Conference has the power already to debag/defrock a Leader; that power needs to be used if a Leader is not performing and delivering the goods, as happened a few years back when Sarah Brown had to step in to save Gordon’s skin. It would had been better if Gordon had been debunked then. We should give JC 2 years to prove his worth, and if he turns out to be a dead loss bin him. If Fixed Term Parliaments were every 3 years we wouldn’t be faced with this problem. 5 years is enough to try anyone’s patience.

  2. John P Reid says:

    This sort of article does you no favours
    Jeremy has got nearly 60% on first round, the mount of £3 supporters or affiliates who put him there,is yet unknown,but he clearly win in members and some may have joined in the last 4 months, but many didn’t
    We have to canvass hard for Scotland, Police commissioners, regional Mayors, Wales and the London Mayor and We have in Keiza dugdale and Sadiq Khan excellent candidates if they lose more than is expected in Scotland, or the popularity of Zac Goldsmith, from Green votes, may clinch it for him, but the amount of votes the London Assembly members get,will show how popular Corbyn has been
    Then the Eu referendum, ,we will have to wait to see the 2018 council elections which in London 2010 due to the same day as the general election and mid term unpopularity for Tories saw us Do well in 2014, then if we’re as unpopular with the public as you predict then that’s the time to talk of coups

    There’s only one person in labour who ousts people 24 hours after their victory, that’s Ken Livingstone ,after Andrew Mackintosh’s 1981 GLC victory

    Face it I know people who give their £50 a year who aren’t prepared to pay it for the next 3 years waiting for a coup, while £3 supporters got a big ago in voting for who leads us, if there’s another leadership re run, then those people won’t be members to vote him out

  3. Lizzy Salander says:

    Personally, I think a Corbyn clause of “total recall” should be considered in Labour’s rule book.


  4. paul barker says:

    Thanks for the explanation but it rather misses the point. What would be the point in repeating this Election with the same system ? Even if the system could be changed to members only, Corbyn got 49.7% of members 1st preferences & would almost certainly have won on the 2nd round.
    The Umunna/Hunt strategy seems to be to wait for Corbyn to fail but while they are waiting The Left will be busy redefining success to suit themselves.

  5. Rallan says:

    Congratulations on selecting Tom & Jerry as your new leadership, comrades. I’m sure you’ll… a ha ha ha… oh, I’m sorry but… *fnff*… a ah ha ha Ha HA HA HA! OMG, are you fecking kidding me? Seriously?

  6. Rallan says:

    Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness have both tweeted congratulations to their friend Jeremy Corbyn. Martin included a lovely photo of them having coffee together, which was really thoughtful. It must be wonderful for Labour to get support from well known public figures.

  7. Union Jock says:

    If history can be bothered with anything so picayune, it will record that Labour Uncut posted nothing for three days before the leadership election, then greeted the biggest democratic mandate a British political party’s No. 1 has ever received with a piece about how to get rid of a leader.

    I’ll archive it, anyway. Another exhibit for the Blairite Freak Show.

    I love the smell of sour grapes in the morning!

  8. swatantra says:

    Flipping LP; has rules on gender balance and then doesn’t stick to them
    Ditch smug Watson, and install Flint.

  9. Tafia says:

    What the cry-babies and other dross that have resigned are failing to acknowledge is that even if you restricted voting purely to full party members, Corbyn would have won, all be it requiring less than 1% of the second preferences.

    Even now, at gone 5pm, the senior figures in the Labour Partty are deepkt stung by the fact that the party membership has decisevely rejected New Labour even in a mild version – they haven’t just lost the leadership election, they’ve actually lost the party. Not only that, but within party members, none of the other three came remotely close to him

    The only way Corbyn would have lost is if the selection of leader was restricted to the Parliamanetray Labour Party alone.

    By the way, where’s Atul?

  10. Tafia says:


    As can be seen, Corbyn was miles ahead in the ordinary membership, miles ahead in the ‘three-quidders’ and miles ahead in the affiliates.


  11. Tafia says:

    Rallan, Cameron, Sturgeon and Wood have as well. And he will receive congratulations in writing from the Queen as well. So your point is what?

    And as for coffee, both McGuiness and Addams have done likewise at Chequers with 2 of the last 3 Prime Ministers.

  12. Mike says:

    John – Comrade Corbyn got less than 50% from actual real members. The 110,000 entryists (hardly evidence of Corbyn bringing in the “5 million missing voters”) voted 85% for him and got him there.

    Tafia – ture others have been photographed with McGuiness, but I don`t believe the others have mourned their death of IRA terrorists or said they were justified to kill British people.

  13. Mike says:

    Tafia – I forgot to add that the others didn`t invite those terrorists into the House of Commons within 2 weeks of an assassination attempt on a PM.
    Comrade Corbyn is a disgrace and anti-British. See your northern Heartlands go to UKIP or the Conservatives as people want a patriotic party.

  14. John P reid says:

    Swat, you realize Stella got more votes than flint in3rd round

    And why not say get rid of Jeremy and install Kendal, PMsL

    rallan yes JC did get 49% on first round from Members I inow 3 at MY CLP who put Liz first JC second, and don’t dozens who put Andy first JC second and one who put Yvette first JC second ,it could’ve been Jetemy win I the second round, if Liz fell out, certainly would have won,on all members votes on the 3rd

  15. paul barker says:

    As an outsider sympathetic to the Labour Centrists it seems to me that they are still in the denial stage. Yes, they still have most of The PLP but that is a diminishing asset : splits or defections look a lot less convincing after you have been deselected.
    Yes, the Centrists have half the present membership but that may well go down as £3 voters join or didillusioned moderates drift away.
    The longer moderates leave taking a decision, the weaker their position will get.

  16. TB says:

    Congratulations to the sensible, decent 60% that voted for Corbyn – and voted out the Red Tory rubbish who tried (and failed) to compete with him. This must be a bad, bad day for “Labour” Uncut. Good.

  17. Was the 12th Sept, the same day as Jeremy Corbyn was officially announced leader, the best time to be discussing the technicalities of removing and changing a leader?

    Show some class. Clench you teeth and smile. At least for one day, just pretend to accept the result. Say something like “Congratulations and well done Jeremy” !

  18. John P Ried says:

    TB don’t worry labour uncut wil be seeing in3 years when we’re on 20% in the polls could their be A coup, or standing back when the Tories win their biggest landslide ever in 202 to say,DanJarvis leader in 2020

  19. I welcome the support from Swantara and lizzie salander for the rule change I have proposed. For the other comments, the relevant ones are John Reid who seems to think that this was written about Corbyn’s result. It follows up the post I made on 28th August, and was written the day before the result. The issue is recall of the leader, any leader and was inspired by the failure to remove Miliband.

    Paul Barker has missed the point I made in the first and second articles, that the current system could not be repeated. Cost alone would make it impossible. The rules say the recall could happen at any and every conference. I would allow only one challenge, and that would have to be taken at one annual conference with due notice.

    Union Jock makes no valid points and has forgotten the article of the 28th, but assumes I guess that I am a blairite. No I am soft left – see my article soft left reprise – and doesn’t know my record in Labour Reform and Save the Labour Party in opposing blairism. No reason why he should. Just don’t jump to stereotyped conclusions please.

    Peter Martin asks if the day of the election is the best day to be discussing technicalities. Refer back to the 28th August, this merely describes how it can be made into an issue for Party conference in 2016. It is less than 13 months away, start now and see what can be done. The fact that Labour has not forced a leader out since George Lansbury means it will be deeply resistant to challenging its leader. its deeply ingrained, and has nothing to do with Corbyn.

    Labour could not get rid of Brown or Miliband when it was obvious they would lose elections. That is the problem that has to be tackled, irrespective of who is the leader.

    Trevor Fisher.

  20. Tafia says:

    What you are seeing going in is the exposure of the complete lie that Labour is a broad church party. The only section of the Labour Party that supports broad church and xconciliation is the left.

    The right of the Labour Party are showing themselves to be totally careerist, self-obsessed, selfish, dogmatic and extremist who are literally spitting in the faces of their own membership. In short Cooper et al are behaving like scum and seem hell-bent on destroying the Labour Party. Personally, I hope Corbyn puts each one on the spot ublicly and puts then in a position where they have no option other than to resign from the party.

    What they are failing to realise is that if they don’t start pulling round and Labour loses in 2020, it will be more than likely that the membership and the unions will blame them as opposed to Corbyn. Not only that, but if Labour loses, there is no way any of them will be anything other than back-bemch irrelevances even if Labour win in 2025 – there time will have been and gone and they themselves would have destroyed their own careers.

    Quite funny in a way.

  21. paul barker says:

    Apparently 15,000 new members have joined Labour since yesterday, presumably most being Corbyn supporters. Corbyn 3 rivals for the leadership got about half the members 1st preference between them but that proportin must be falling as new members shift Labour even further Left.
    Moderate Labour have to get over the delusion that they are going to get their Party back as soon as a few bad Election results come in. The whole centre of gravity in The Labour Movement has shifted & the Centrists old arguments dont work anymore.

  22. Lizzy Salander says:

    How could the unions and the memebership blame Corbyn!? – they elected him. So they wouldn’t blame themselves would they.

    The joke candidate becomes the joke party – quite ironic.

    Here is another friend for Corbyn’s” broadchurch” Labour party…..


  23. John P Reid says:

    Lizzy Salanderartile, thanks
    So Dave nellists says
    merge TUSC on 33,000 votes with Labour Party on 9.330,000 votes so that for ever labour MP there should be 0.003 of a TUSC one or for the 200,000 councilors in the UK,if labour puts up someone in every seat the TUSC should put up Only 1 and a half candidates in total.

  24. John P Reid says:

    Paul barker, I know 3 people who joined yesterday who can’t stand. JC and 4 who just left who can’t stand him
    Just a small point it was labour members it’s was 73% of members who voted in the poll

  25. Janice says:

    There is a serious issue about removal of a leader, but the election process is so lengthy and cumbersome that it is inevitable that removal becomes equally difficult.

    The problem with debating this now is you open the door to mandatory reselection of mps if you talk about mandatory reseleciton of leaders, there is also a problem of process, and the election method has been shown to be useless, and needs to be replaced with something that works.

    I think corbyn is going to have to be given enough rope, and clearly he is already uncoiling it with great speed, so the hanging process shouldn’t take long.

    However the biggest lesson here is the extent to which naive people who know very little about real world political machinations but who have idealistic beliefs, have shaped the results.

    It will be a little sad to see their delusions shattered, but they will be, and some degree of realism will be restored, but the current process for chosing a leader is clearly failing, and even the one under which ed miliband was selected was failing.

    Democracy is nice, but chosing a leader should be about political realities, and the voting system needs to reflect this better.

  26. Landless Peasant says:

    Why would you want to remove Corbyn? He’s the best choice of Leader ever!

  27. I weicome the comment from Janice, but as I have already said on both the August 28th and September 12th blogs, the current system is unworkable and will never be repeated. The SNP took the decision to make the deputy the leader as many unions do. that would not work for Labour, but the only way to make a leadership election work is tie the decision to Party conference which would then have to decide a short and effective way to do it. Unions manage this.

    However it is not mandatory reselection. The trigger ballot only works if there are 20% of MPs who trigger it and that rule might have to be modified to take the decision out of the hands of the MPs and Westminster back stabbing, but the essential point is that once per parliament (the current rules allow a challenge every conference which is stupid) there should be a chance to reselect. It would not be mandatory.

    If the leader was popular, why change? The problem with Miliband was that his poll ratings were always lower than his party – Cameron was the reverse – and after the euro election gave UKIP a higher vote than Labour, he should have been challenged.

    Its only when the leader is massively unpopular that they should be removed. The Tories have always understood this – Labour never has. Thatcher was booted out even though their most successful PM since Churcill

    That is a party which understands about winning

    Trevor Fisher.

  28. John P Reid says:

    Landless Peasant they want to remove him ,because they think he’s going to be even less sucsesful than Michael foot

    It reminds me of the joke
    Blair lose lsbour 5.5% of the vote in the 2005 election, and no one like him he goes,Briencimes in is worse and people say Ah Blair he wasn’t so bad after all
    Then Broen goes after the Tories not winning the 2010 election Ed miliband comes in,the Tories do win the 2015 election by 12 votes,and people say Brown. he wasn’t so bad after all
    Then Ed Miliband goes Corbyn comes in the Tories win a landslide in 2020 ,people say ah Ed miliband he wasn’t so bad after all

  29. Fred says:

    You want another twist?

    The rules don’t say “potential challengers may seek nomination”. They say “nominations may be sought by potential challengers”.

    The difference between the active and passive voice is subtle but huge. The first is explicit that potential challengers are seeking nomination of themselves. The second, whilst normally interpreted in that way, uses a pair of plurals, and therefore makes no such link. It is within the letter of the rule as drafted for a “potential challenger” to seek the submission of nominations for ALL candidates. One of whom would be the incumbent.

    Never use the passive voice when the active will do.

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