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Labour leadership: how a contest works

By Anna Doble, Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 May 2010

As Gordon Brown stands down, the Labour Party now faces the task of selecting a new leader. Who Knows Who look at the way the process works and who it could benefit.

Labour party badges: how the leadership contest will work. (Credit: Getty)

Gordon Brown announced he would step down as party leader immediately.

His deputy Harriet Harman would take over as acting leader until his successor has been chosen by the party.
Labour's ruling National Executive Committee agreed today to meet "in the days and weeks ahead" to determine the timetable and the procedures for electing a new leader.

No candidate has formally stepped forward to announce their intention to stand in a contest, but it is widely expected the battle will be fought between David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Alan Johnson.

Leftwing MP Jon Cruddas is also a contender.

Who Knows Who: Labour leadership - the likely contenders

The Independent reports that one Labour insider has said: "The next leader will be called Ed or Miliband. No, let me correct that. He will be called Miliband or Miliband."

But the process is complex and brings together several bodies, including the trade unions.

National Executive Committee (NEC)
The NEC is the governing body of the Labour Party. It oversees the overall direction of the party and the policy-making process.

It carries out this role by deciding objectives once a year and meeting regularly to review the work.

The NEC is due to discuss the leadership contest in a scheduled conference call, but is thought unlikely to make decisions on its process or timetable at this stage.

Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)
The term "Parliamentary Labour Party" refers to the Labour party in parliament.

To mount a bid for the leadership - when there is a vacancy - candidates need a nomination of 12.5 per cent of PLP - 33 MPs at present.

Originally, the leader of the Labour Party was elected purely by the PLP but now an "electoral college" is used.

Electoral college
This process involves Labour MPs and MEPs, grassroots activists and affiliated organisations, including trade unions. It came about after the party's "Bennite" (led by Tony Benn) left wing pushed for a more democratic structure in the late 1970s and early eighties.

At the last contested election of a Labour leader, in 1994, 700,000 individuals were entitled to cast a ballot, but their votes were not all worth the same. The vote of an individual MP is worth more than that of an activist or union member.

Ballots of the three sections of the electoral college will be conducted in time for the new leader to be named by the party's annual conference in Manchester at the end of September.

So who might the college favour?
Alan Johnson, the current home secretary, is the obvious frontman in terms of the trade union vote. He is a former postman and union official. Ed Balls, seen as straight-talking and down-to-earth might also do well.

MPs and MEPs would more likely back one of the Miliband brothers. They are the academic thinkers of the current Labour hierarchy. The younger of the pair, Ed, wrote the 2010 election manifesto while David is viewed as a talented diplomat and statesman as foreign secretary.

Grassroots Labour supporters might be tempted by Balls or Johnson. But the Milibands certainly bring with them a rich left-of-centre heritage. They are the children of Polish Jewish immigrants and grew up surrounded by progressive political thinkers. Their father, Ralph Miliband, was a Marxist theorist. 

Labour's die-hard left will likely plump for Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, and the man behind well-respected think tank Compass. He did well in the 2007 deputy leadership contest, eventually won by Harriet Harman.

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