6 Sep 2010

Labour MPs debate leadership – and shadow cabinet contest

One of the most important hustings of the Labour leadership contest tonight. The second time all the candidates have been up in front of the Labour MPs. It starts at 6pm. Second preferences are the key here – where will MPs put their “2” on the ballot paper? The MPs’ votes count for thousands of members and trade unionists and will be decisive. The PLP will also get to hear about another election it has on Wednesday to decide how it wants to elect future shadow cabinets if it wants to elect them at all. 

Members of the last cabinet I’ve spoken to were aghast that somehow in all the years in government they’d accidentally forgotten to drop the annual carnival of shadow cabinet elections.

There’s lobbying, much popping up and down in the chamber, regional slates and much else. The competition had a reputation for being something less than meritocratic. The main focus here has been on how quickly the party moves towards a 50:50 quota for women on elected shadow cabinet posts.

But there will also be an option on the multiple choice ballot to drop elections altogether – it’s not clear whether many are willing to back this however much they rail against the system in private.

What’s caught a lot of MPs’ eyes is one particular option on the ballot paper, which is to make the election of Chief Whip (current holder, Nick Brown) NOT subject to annual elections but elected for a Parliament.

Friends of the Chief Whip say it’s not appropriate or helpful to have a disciplinary post subject to backbench pressure, like convicts electing the prison governor. But backbench MPs I’ve spoken to feel a bit of job preservation is going on and they’re not at all keen to back it.

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