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.