A row has broken out within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) over how it chooses its shadow cabinet once a new leader is in place at the annual party conference later this month. Labour MPs gathered for a private discussion of the rules for shadow cabinet elections in committee room 14 of the House of Commons at lunchtime today. The former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, charged by the PLP with drawing up the plans, presented the findings to her colleagues. There were four main points of division.
First, whether or not, as in the past, the entire shadow cabinet should be elected by MPs, with no appointments. Newstatesman.com has learned that Jack Straw, the shadow justice secretary, argued that there should be a “hybrid” of some elected and some appointed shadow cabinet members, with either a third or half appointed. But Frank Dobson argued for a fully elected shadow cabinet, pointing out that he and Straw and others had had the authority of elections from the backbenchers. There were differing views as to whether the process of elections had produced effective shadow cabinets during the 1980s and 1990s.
The second area of division is over how many women should be in the shadow cabinet. Harriet Harman, the acting leader, has argued for a quota of 50: 50 women and men, but the party appears to be settling on a quota of around 30 per cent this year, representative of the number of women in the PLP, with the number to rise in coming years. However, some MPs are concerned that in a few cases men would be forced to do their jobs for a year or two knowing they would later be replaced. Others predict the party will indeed opt for 50 per cent women. There is also dismay among some MPs that there is no quota for ethnic minority members.
Third, there is concern over a plan by Nick Brown, the chief whip, to have that post elected by the PLP for a five-year fixed term. Brown’s plan, revealed first by Garry Gibbon, is seen as a move to ensure his own election but also to set up a rival power base to the new leader.
Finally, the Labour MP Denis MacShane raised concerns over the fact that the elections will take place at the party conference in Manchester itself, arguing that a number of MPs did not attend all or even some of the conference and that the hectic environment of lobbying, pressure groups and trade unionists is inappropriate. MacShane argued that the process was going too quickly.
Labour MPs will vote tomorrow on the rules, having been presented with a number of options on the above areas. One influential Labour MP predicted to NS.com that a hybrid shadow cabinet would emerge, but others said they expected some appointments to be made. Dozens of MPs are expected to stand for the shadow cabinet.