Should the Lib Dems elect our (shadow) cabinet members?

by Stephen Tall on September 28, 2010

The election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader — despite losing the vote among Labour party members and MPs/MEPs — presented an easy target for the Lib Dems, a party which has always believed in one-member-one-vote, and where the views of our MPs carry equal weight as any other party member.

However, there is another election about to take place within the Labour party: for the 19 places available in their shadow cabinet. All MPs are eligible to stand, and the electorate comprises their colleagues; a separate ballot will decide who will be the Labour chief whip. So far it’s estimated some 40 Labour MPs will contest the election, and at least six of those elected will be women.

In this area, Labour is, quite simply, more democratic than the Lib Dems. Our party’s shadow cabinet (and now cabinet and ministerial appointments) has never been decided by the votes of Lib Dem MPs. Historically, of course — in the pre-’97 days when the party had so few MPs portfolios were regularly doubled up — this wasn’t an issue.

But now? Well, now I’m not so sure. For example, would the list of Lib Dem MPs who weren’t picked by Nick (and who weren’t vetoed by the Tories) to serve in government look different if the party had shadow cabinet elections? Would there now be at least one female Lib Dem cabinet minister?

There are of course arguments to be made for not tying the hands of the leader — the more so when having to pick his way through a deal with a rival party — but, still, when attacking Labour for their sham of an electoral college, we should remember our party democracy is not always perfect either.