Does Mr Corbyn need a minimum of PLP support to stand against Ms Eagle for re-election as leader? Yes

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour party is to decide this afternoon whether, under the party’s constitution and rules, the requirement that a challenger to the leader must have the support of a given percentage of members of the parliamentary party applies equally to an existing leader, or whether an existing leader has an automatic right to put his name on the ballot paper regardless of his or her level of support in the PLP.  Legal aspects of this question are exhaustively (and exhaustingly) discussed at great length on the indispensable — but not necessarily authoritative — website of “Head of Legal”, here.  I agree with some but not all of his conclusions. Although not a lawyer, I have ventured to express my opinion on that website as follows:

I disagree with the formulation of the problem as whether the incumbent leader should be excluded from the ballot in the election to the party leadership. No-one, to my knowledge, is proposing that Corbyn should be prevented from standing. The question is much simpler: does the 20% threshold requirement apply to Corbyn as the incumbent as it does to his challenger[s], or not? In my view the commonsense interpretation of the two key sentences [in the relevant rule] is that “any” means “any”, i.e. all the candidates including the incumbent are required to satisfy the threshold stipulated and that the candidacy of any who does not is “null and void”; that if the rules had meant to exempt the incumbent from the threshold requirement, they would have said so, since such an exemption would represent a new and highly controversial addition to the party’s constitution; and that any remaining doubt is removed by considering the fundamental purpose of having any threshold at all, regardless of the percentage applicable in different circumstances: namely, to ensure that *any* candidate offered to the membership for election as leader has a certain minimum level of support in the PLP. This purpose would by definition be defeated if an incumbent leader lacking the minimum PLP support required by the rules were nevertheless allowed to stand for election. All the rest of the legal argument seems to me, with all due respect to the lawyers (but no more than that!), beside the point.
(Has anyone pointed out that if Corbyn can muster 15% support from the PLP but not 20%, all he needs to do is resign his leadership and immediately stand for election to fill the vacancy?)
I hope the NEC will have the sense to confirm that there is no question of excluding the incumbent from the ballot paper but that for the avoidance of doubt, the threshold rule applies to the incumbent as it does to anyone else standing for election, and that any other interpretation would defeat the objective of having a threshold at all.

Well, we’ll soon know!


1 Response

  1. Aidan Boustred says:

    That’s an interesting link. I read the rules in the opposite way to you, though. “nominations may be sought by potential challengers” “any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent”. I think this means that “nominations” are for the “challengers” (i.e. not the incumbent), and it is these nominations that require the 20%. Corbyn is not a challenger, does not require a nomination and therefore doesn’t need support for that nomination. What clinches it for me is the difference in percentages – why should he require less support if he had already resigned? I think whoever drafted these rather vague rules envisaged the higher threshold when a leader existed as being a way of making it harder to challenge the status quo.