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What is Labour's "McDonnell amendment" - and why does it matter?

Labour's left is pushing for a change to the leadership election rules. What could it mean for the future of the party?

Nearly two years may have passed, but the parliamentary Labour party barely need reminding how Jeremy Corbyn won a place on the 2015 leadership ballot. Moderate MPs, almost all of them unsympathetic to his politics, were persuaded to lend him their nominations to “broaden the debate". Corbyn squeaked over the threshold of 35 nominations and on to the shortlist with moments to spare. The trajectory his leadership has taken since means few, if any, will be so generous come the next leadership contest.

The consequences are naturally problematic for the left. Barring some unforeseen compromise or an influx of Corbyn loyalists, they face being locked out of a future leadership race by the arithmetic of the rules. At present, these require candidates to be nominated by 15 per cent of Labour’s MPs and MEPs.

The battle, however, is not yet lost – and like all great factional battles within Labour, it will be fought and won on the conference floor. With an eye on Corbyn’s inevitable departure, the Labour left is pushing for an amendment to the leadership rules. This would lower the nomination threshold from 15 per cent to 5 per cent. The reduced quota of 12 MPs – down from 37 – would all but guarantee a left-wing contender (or, indeed, contenders) a place on the ballot.

Dubbed the McDonnell amendment in honour of the shadow chancellor John McDonnell – whose two abortive bids for the leadership in 2007 and 2010 were scuppered by his inability to reach the 15 per cent threshold – the rule change will be floated at Labour conference in Brighton in September.

Critics of the proposed change (and there are many of them) say it undermines the fairly fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy. By contrast, its proponents speak with varying degrees of sincerity on the need to better represent Labour’s new mass membership. Indeed, Momentum’s Jon Lansman – a veteran of the Bennites’ long war with moderates in the eighties – was last week revealed to have told new recruits that securing the amendment was “absolutely crucial” to the future of the project.

But will it pass? Though Labour moderates have been spooked by the prospect of the amendment ushering in infinite Corbynism, many remain bullish as to their chances of seeing it off. The rule change will definitely be debated on the conference floor, but many moderates, having secured a series of important victories at a regional level last year, are confident that the make-up of conference delegates – plus the likely support of unions including Usdaw, the GMB and Unison – will allow them to block the left on this occasion as well.

Ultimately, whether or not the left will get their way depends on their ability to organise effectively at this grassroots level. 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.