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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: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.