The Labour leadership contenders at the Progress conference last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Could Labour still make it easier to remove its leader?

MPs consider alternatives after "break clause" is rejected by acting leader Harman. 

Labour's comprehensive election defeat left many MPs regretful at their decision not to oust Ed Miliband before facing the voters (as was the case with Gordon Brown in 2010). It was this that inspired the proposed "break clause" for the next leader, who would face re-election after three years under the plan. The idea won the support of Tristram Hunt and leadership contender Liz Kendall, who said: "I think the idea that people are asked to make sure that you're up to the job that you're doing is an interesting one, actually, those three years or whatever. We have to do it as MPs, I think it's an interesting idea." Such an innovation would have acted as an automatic check to Labour's sentimental tendency to stand loyally by failing leaders (in contrast to the regicidal Conservatives). 

But the proposal has been rejected by acting leader Harriet Harman, who told the Observer that once a leader was elected it was "for them to be getting on and doing that job" for five years. Some in the party feared that the new leader would face endless derision from the Tories for being on a "temporary contract". But after the rejection of a break-clause, MPs are considering other ways in which Labour's rules could be amended to make it easier to remove Miliband's successor. 

At present, the leader faces annual re-election at the party conference (a mere formality) with no other official means available to challenge him or her. This contrasts with the Conservatives whose leader faces a confidence vote if 15 per cent or more of the parliamentary party write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee requesting one (a threshold almost reached in the last parliament). A Labour MP suggested to me that this option should be considered, describing it as a "trapdoor". An anonymous ballot of the PLP would make it far easier to remove leaders by reducing the need for a shadow cabinet revolt. But others will argue that rather than amending its constitution, the party should simply have the guts to act if necessary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.