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5 September 2016

Labour MPs set to vote for return of shadow cabinet elections

Not one speaker opposed the move at tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. 

By George Eaton

As they contemplate Jeremy Corbyn’s likely re-election, Labour MPs have hit upon a new plan for asserting their infuence: the revival of shadow cabinet elections. Until 2011, annual contests were held in which 19 members would be elected to the frontbench. After previously approving Ed Miliband’s rule change, MPs are now pushing for its reversal. The rebels hope that senior figures, such as Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis, would stand for election and constrain Corbyn’s influence.

At tonight’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, backbencher Clive Betts tabled a motion on the issue (seconded by Tribune group chair Clive Efford), with not one MP speaking in opposition to it. Betts described it as a “pragmatic response to the situation we find ourselves in” and concluded by saying “that we can’t carry on as we are”. A secret ballot of MPs will be held tomorrow between 10am and 5pm. If, as expected, they vote for shadow cabinet elections, the policy will then require the approval of both Labour’s National Executive Committee, which meets next week, and its annual conference. 

The motion read: 

“Whatever the result of the leadership election on the 24th September, it is clear that the PLP must take steps to come together. As part of this process, the PLP would like to ask the NEC to bring forward a rule change to this year’s annual conference, re-introducing the system of Shadow Cabinet elections immediately following this current leadership contest.

“This would ensure that the Shadow Cabinet has the support of backbench Labour MPs and that the entire PLP can become an effective opposition and hold the Government to account from a position of unity. If such a rule change is agreed by the NEC and this year’s Annual Conference the precise number of members to be elected and the method of electing them should be recommended to the PLP by the Parliamentary Committee, and the PLP’s standing orders be brought into line accordingly.”

Corbyn has argued that members should also participate in any elections. A spokesman said earlier today: “Jeremy supports democratisation and reform of the party rules and structures.

“How the shadow cabinet is made up is one part of the debate, including whether part of it should be elected by MPs, by members or by conference.

“Any review also needs to take account of the need to represent regions and nations.”

Neither Corbyn nor Owen Smith attended the meeting owing to a leadership hustings and just six members of the present shadow cabinet were said to have been present. The loudest applause came when former shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant said that party staff “deserved support” after a “difficult year”. The show of solidarity will likely be seen as a rebuke to Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have accused Labour officials of illegitimately excluding some members from the leadership contest.