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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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.