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How will the Labour leadership election work?

Labour is looking to elect a new leader. What’s the process?

Who is running to be leader?

Liz Kendall has declared, David Lammy has said he could be interested, Yvette Cooper's aides have secured a domain name for her campaign site, but all the other likely candidates have merely made interventions so far, stopping short of declaring their intentions to run. Read up on the runners and riders here. Tom Watson will be running for deputy leader.

What will happen in the meantime?

Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader, will be acting leader. But she will resign her position as deputy leader once a successor to that position is chosen.

And how does it work?

Using a system called One Member One Vote (OMOV). This means candidates will be elected by members and registered and affiliated supporters – each has a maximum of one vote.

It didn’t used to be like that, did it?

No, it used to be a different system, with three electoral colleges (party members, MPs and MEPs, and trade unions and affiliated societies) being given equal weight. So now, if you’re a Labour-affiliated trade union member and you want to vote, you have to register as a Labour supporter (rather than automatically being affiliated).

When did it change?

It was part of the Collins Report’s proposals for party reform in 2014.

Why did it change?

Partly the Falkirk row, when the union Unite was accused of rigging the selection, and partly a long-term need to reform Labour’s complex relationship with the trade unions. It’s somewhat ironic that it was Ed Miliband who pushed OMOV through– he benefited from the union vote during the 2010 leadership election.

So what do candidates need to be able to stand?

They need to be nominated by at least 15 per cent of Labour MPs. Looking at the current number of seats Labour has (232), that’s 35 MPs. That means a maximum of six candidates can run.

And what’s the voting system?

Alternative vote (AV), like previous Labour leadership elections.

What about choosing a deputy?

The same rules apply.

Does it have to be a female/male duo for leader and deputy?


How long will it take?

The new system outlined in the Collins Report maps out a quicker leadership election than took place in 2010, but Labour’s National Executive Committee has now voted on a timetable. Here it is:

Friday 15 May                             Election Period Opens
Monday 8 June                            PLP Nomination Hustings for Leader
Tuesday 9 June                           PLP Nomination Hustings for Deputy Leader
Tuesday 9 June                           PLP Nominations Open
12 noon Monday 15 June              PLP Nominations (Leader) Close
12 noon Wednesday 17 June         PLP Nominations (Deputy Leader) Close
Wednesday 17 June                     Hustings period opens
12 noon Friday 31 July                 Supporting Nominations Close
12 noon Wednesday 12 August      Last date to join as member, affiliated supporter, or registered supporter
Friday 14 August                         Ballot mailing despatched
12 noon Thursday 10 September   Ballot closes
Saturday 12 September                       Special conference to announce result

Many party figures think it should take its time to ensure it chooses the right leader. National Executive Committee member Jon Ashworth MP has been pushing for a long leadership election, with candidates making speeches to party conference ahead of the ballot, for a leadership contest “that tests all contenders”. Alastair Campbell has even been advocating Harman staying acting leader “for a year or so” to allow an in-depth debate about the future. And 

Others warn that it was a lengthy leadership race last time that allowed the Tories to capture the narrative on the economy (the line that Labour “crashed the car”), because there was no leader in place to counter it, and the party was distracted by the leadership contest.

Who would a swifter race have benefited?

Probably Andy Burnham. Popular with the members and the unions, a well-known figure, and an impressive performer. Other candidates, perhaps those from a fresher generation of Labour politicians (like Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt or Chuka Umunna), would need a longer time to build a support base and become familiar faces.

What happens next?

MPs will begin endorsing candidates, and each candidate will set out their stall for the leadership.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Want an independent-minded MP? Vote for a career politician

The brutally ambitious are not content to fall in with the crowd. 

“Never having had a ‘real’ job outside of politics”: this is what the majority of respondents told a YouGov poll in 2014 when asked the most undesirable characteristic of the British politician. The result is hardly surprising. Type the words “career politician” into your search engine or raise the topic at a dinner party, and quickly you will be presented with a familiar list of grievances.

One of the fundamental criticisms is that career politicians in parliament are elitists concerned only with furthering their own interests. Their pronounced and self-serving ambition for climbing the ministerial ladder is said to turn them into submissive party-machines, sycophants or yes men and women, leading them to vote loyally with their party in every parliamentary division. But do we actually have evidence for this?

A new in-depth analysis, to be published later this month in the academic journal, Legislative Studies Quarterly, presents a forceful challenge to this conventional wisdom. In fact, I find that career politician MPs in the UK are more likely to rebel against their party than their non-career politician peers. Why?

My study was motivated by the observation that the existing impression of the party loyalty of career politicians is based mostly on anecdotal evidence and speculation. Moreover, a look through the relevant journalistic work, as well as the sparse extant academic literature, reveals that the two main hypotheses on the topic make starkly contradictory claims. By far the most popular — but largely unverified — view is that their exclusively professional reliance on politics renders career politicians more brutally ambitious for frontbench office, which in turn makes them especially subservient to the party leadership.

The opposing, but lesser known expectation is that while career politicians may be particularly eager to reach the frontbenches, “many of them are also much too proud and wilful to be content to serve as mere lobby fodder”, as the late Anthony King, one of the shrewdest analysts of British politics, observed nearly thirty years ago on the basis of more qualitative evidence.

Faced with these opposing but equally plausible prognoses, I assembled biographical data for all the MPs of the three big parties between 2005-15 (more than 850) and analysed all parliamentary votes during this period. I followed the debate’s prevalent view that an exclusive focus on politics (e.g. as a special adviser or an MP’s assistant) or a closely-related field (e.g. full-time trade union official or interest group worker) marks an MP as a careerist. In line with previous estimations, just under 20 per cent of MPs were identified as career politicians. The extensive statistical analysis accounted for additional factors that may influence party loyalty, and largely ruled out systematic differences in ideology between career and non-career politicians, as well as party or term-specific differences as drivers of the effects.

As noted above, I find strong evidence that career politician backbenchers are more likely to rebel. The strength of this effect is considerable. For example, amongst government backbenchers who have never held a ministerial post, a non-career politician is estimated to rebel in only about 20 votes per parliament. By contrast, a career politician dissents more than twice as often — a substantial difference considering the high party unity in Westminster.

This finding reveals a striking paradox between the predominantly negative opinion of career politicians on the one hand, and the electorate's growing demand for more independent-minded MPs on the other. In fact career politicians are the ones who perform best in delivering on this demand. Similarly, the results imply that the oft-cited career-related dependency of career politicians on the party can be overridden (or, at the very least, complemented) by their self-image as active and independent-minded participants in the legislative process. This should attenuate the prevalent concern that a rise in career politicians leads to a weakening of parliament’s role as a scrutinizing body.

Finally, the findings challenge the pervasive argument that a lack of experience in the real world disqualifies an MP from contributing meaningfully to the legislative process. Instead, it appears that a pre-parliamentary focus on politics can, under certain circumstances, boost an MP's normatively desirable willingness to challenge the party and the executive.

Raphael Heuwieser is researching political party loyalty at the University of Oxford.