John McDonnell’s announcement of a ‘Fiscal Credibility Rule’ lays the foundation on which Labour can restore its economic credibility and correct the key policy failure that lost it the 2015 General Election. Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity agenda is now underpinned with a sound economic framework. These policies to improve people’s living standards should set Labour’s agenda for its fight against the Tories. To guarantee this advance can be maintained it is necessary to remove the threat of a leadership coup.
Since July 2015, when Corbyn became the front runner in the Labour leadership contest, the right has been plotting how to remove him in a parliamentary coup. Much of the discussion aired in the media since then has focused on engineering an undemocratic leadership contest. It is widely understood, if the wishes of Labour’s membership are taken into account in another leadership election, Corbyn will be re-elected, possibly with a greater landslide than last year according to a recent ElectionData/YouGov poll.
So a coup has been proposed that would block Corbyn from standing for re-election. Taking advantage of poor drafting of Labour’s rules on the conduct of leadership elections, it is being claimed that Corbyn could only run if he secures an unattainable threshold of MP and MEP nominations.
There is nothing in Labour’s rules stating the sitting Leader has to secure any parliamentary nominations. They were not drafted with the intention of stopping a sitting Leader from contesting a challenger.
The right is suggesting it will seek a court ruling as to whether Jeremy Corbyn is on a ballot paper or not, anticipating that a judge will ‘interpret’ Labour’s rules in its favour. The courts are not neutral; neither the drafter’s original intentions nor a ‘common sense’ reading will ultimately determine an actual ruling.
Labour can and should just clarify its own rules democratically, not hand over this task to a court. The Rule Book can easily be tidied up by a minor amendment to the specific rule.
The right is serious about regaining power in the Labour Party and at present this unintended ambiguity seems to be its only option for removing Corbyn. So, of course, it is fighting hard against any move to remove any ambiguity in the rules a court could exploit. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson has desperately claimed the party clarifying its own rules might itself precipitate a challenge to Corbyn. As Business Insider aptly headlined its article, ‘Tom Watson wants to make it harder for Corbyn to survive a coup’.
The left also must be resolute about retaining the power within the party that it democratically won – it needs to show the same understanding of power the right always has. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) has asked local constituency parties to submit proposals for a rule amendment to the national party, to clarify the situation and avoid Labour ending up in a legal battle.
A rule change proposal needs to be agreed at this year’s Labour Party Conference in September clarifying that party members do get to express their democratic views in leadership elections. Once this has been tidied up the right will know it can only win by democratic means, by convincing the membership. Removing the possibility of a coup will end the media speculation and stabilise the situation in the Party. Labour can then concentrate on developing its strategy and elaborating the specific policies to campaign on.