Shouldn’t Labour MPs just nominate the candidate they think is best for the job?

by Stephen Tall on June 5, 2010

I’ve been intrigued these past couple of days to see the main Labour blogs fall over themselves to argue that the current three front-runners for the Labour leadership – now they have the MP nominations needed to be on the ballot – should urge their parliamentary colleagues to nominate one of the three also-ran contenders to ensure “the widest possible field of candidates in the leadership election”.

I can understand the principle behind the campaign, of course. Frankly, if I were in the shoes of a Labour member (as I was for a number of years), I would welcome a wider choice than the two Eds and two Milibands on offer.

But the idea that MPs should nominate a rival who otherwise cannot attract sufficient support strikes me as the most patronising tokenism imaginable.

Labour requires each contender to obtain nominations from 12.5% of MPs, which equates to 33 MPs. 33 out of a total nominating electorate of 257 really isn’t that many. As Tom Harris has pointedly remarked, with some justice, if the candidates “can’t secure the support of one in eight Labour colleagues, then on what basis can they claim to provide leadership for their party?”

As it happens, the nomination process for Labour leader isn’t so different to that which exists in the Lib Dems. While Labour requires nominations from 12.5% of MPs, the Lib Dems require 10% of MPs to nominate our candidates. However, as a party less hidebound by hierarchy, and less establishment than Labour, the Lib Dems also require that any candidate obtain the support of at least 200 party members from at least 20 different local parties.

In fact, the Lib Dems did, in our 2006 leadership election, allow our MPs to nominate more than one candidate – a loophole which Labour would appear to be keen to borrow. It invited ridicule, and the party rightly decided to ditch this provision by the time of our 2007 leadership election, allowing MPs to nominate only one candidate each for leader.

I have to ask those Labour bloggers calling for this special dispensation: what kind of party, what kind of candidate, would want a pity nomination?

Surely every Labour MP owes it to their own reputation, as well as to their party’s, to ensure the MPs nominated are those they feel to be best suited to the task of leading Labour?

I don’t suppose quoting Edmund Burke will win over those on the left, but, still, his words ring true, especially when those 90 Labour MPs yet to nominate come to consider the personal qualities necessary for the post of leader:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Labour members do, I feel, deserve a better, broader choice than the three candidates currently on offer. (Just as, incidentally, Lib Dem members deserved a better, broader choice than Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne in 2007).

But the idea that Labour MPs should feel emotionally blackmailed into nominating a colleague they feel is utterly unsuited to, and unsuitable for, the role of leader is ridiculous – even if it does offer the illusion of “the widest possible field”.

David Miliband’s populist pandering – suggesting he would use his own personal nomination to help a rival secure the necessary 33 MPs – is the kind of emetic posturing which displays, yet again, Labour’s unappealing habit of top-down patronage.

Labour MPs should do the right thing. It’s simple really: nominate the person they feel would do the best job of leading the party. You really do have to question the motives of anyone who would ask them to do anything other than that.