Ed Miliband's ghost is haunting the deputy leadership candidates, but not in the way you think

Ed Miliband's changes to Labour's internal elections gave the PLP less power over the outcome - but a lot more over the ballot. Some MPs want to loosen the leash. 

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Stella Creasy – very probably the biggest name at risk of not making the ballot tomorrow – needs the support of seven more MPs if she’s to make it through to the leadership contest.  But if Jon Ashworth had his way, she’d need just one.

After Ed Miliband ripped up Labour’s electoral college and replaced it with one member, one vote, the parliamentary Labour party lost its ability to control a third of the vote for the Labour leader.  Under that system, the race would be over already – the bookmakers’ favourite, Tom Watson,  already a formidable frontrunner among the members, would be all but inevitable thanks to the support of a substantial chunk of the parliamentary party and the probable backing of the trade unions.  

Now, once candidates make the ballot, it’s a genuine free-for-all. But in return for that sizable reduction in their powers over the outcome, MPs were given an increased say over the shape of the final ballot. Now, instead of requiring the support of 12.5 per cent of MPs – 29 signatures – candidates must instead secure the support of 35 of their fellow parliamentarians.

That task is all the harder when you consider that, of the remaining 30 MPs who have yet to nominate a candidate – Watson has qualified with 59 signatures, while Caroline Flint has 41 – in reality, only 23 can. Rosie Winterton, the widely respected Chief Whip, will have to work with whatever leadership team emerges after the contest, and will stay out of the race. None of the four candidates for leader will want to prejudice their relationships with the eventual winner by backing another candidate. And the defeated leader, Ed Miliband, and the acting leader, Harriet Harman, will both have to avoid declaring a preference for appearances’ sake.

The consequences are stark. Creasy, with 28 MPs, needs the support of seven of the 23 to make the ballot. Her campaign is confident of getting the numbers they need by  noon tomorrow but they could still come unstuck. With 12.5 per cent, she’d need just one more. Ben Bradshaw and Angela Eagle need 10 more signatures - mathematically, both could make it, but in reality, neither will. Ali is on 24.

That’s why many MPs believe the threshold should be far lower. They argue that neither the Liberal Democrat or Conservative leadership races have produced a circus, despite the far lower threshold for nomination. Sadiq Khan, who lent his nomination to get Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot, believes the system used to select the mayoral shortlist – candidates must secure the nominations of seven per cent of constituencies – should be used for the Labour leadership. And Jon Ashworth,  the MP for Leicester South and a deputy chair of the Labour party, believes the threshold should be lowered back to its pre-reform level of 12.5 per cent. Ashworth, who sits on the NEC, will argue for the change at their next meeting.

It looks likely that the leadership ballot will be less tightly controlled by the PLP in the future. But that may be too late for Creasy, Bradshaw, Eagle and Ali.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.