Corbyn allies' plan to secure the left a place in Labour's leadership contests revealed

Exclusive: The leader’s supporters will make a key concession to win broader support 

Ashley Cowburn,Joe Watts
Monday 04 September 2017 08:39
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A fight over the issue is set to play out at the party’s autumn conference this month
A fight over the issue is set to play out at the party’s autumn conference this month

Jeremy Corbyn’s allies are putting forward a new compromise deal they believe will secure Labour’s left a place in future leadership contests, The Independent can reveal.

Under the proposal, Mr Corbyn’s supporters would make a key concession to their existing plan to change rules governing how MPs win a place on the leadership ballot.

Insiders at Labour’s union backers, who would be crucial to any proposal’s success, have also signalled to The Independent they would welcome the proposal, which would require only 10 per cent of MPs to support a candidate to get them on the ballot.

Despite Mr Corbyn’s gains during the general election, critics in the party have vowed to fight alterations to the rule book to make it easier for MPs to run for the leadership.

A fight over the issue is set to play out at the party’s autumn conference in Brighton later this month, which is the first since Mr Corbyn defied internal and external critics to strengthen Labour’s Commons presence.

Anyone currently wishing to enter a leadership contest must be nominated by 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs, a level which has in the past made it harder for candidates from the left to gain entry.

One proposal – branded the “McDonnell amendment” by its critics after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell – would see the threshold lowered from 15 to 5 per cent.

But with that plan facing fierce opposition from Labour moderates, The Independent understands a new offer would instead see the threshold lowered to 10 per cent – allowing MPs a stronger role.

A senior Labour source said: “That’s the direction things are going in now.

“It’s a reasonable position that enough people from the party, the unions and so on can gather around.”

Mr McDonnell has hinted that a “compromise” could be close, but the new details show Mr Corbyn’s backers are trying to find a formula for change that will enjoy maximum support and have the greatest chance of success.

Mr Corbyn himself only managed to win a place in the 2015 shortlist after MPs who said they would not actually vote for him, nominated him in a bid to broaden the political range of candidates on offer.

Key Corbyn ally and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey is likely to back the move, and sources close to the leadership at Unison also told The Independent the plan could work.

They said: “Unison has presented itself as a unifying force in the party and is likely to welcome a consensus on 10 per cent.”

Last week, shadow frontbencher Chris Williamson, a Corbynite outrider, said the system should be even more radically altered so that MPs are cut out of the process altogether and members given a greater say.

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He said: “There shouldn’t be a leadership threshold at all. That needs to change. Who are the [Parliamentary Labour Party]? They are a tiny percentage of the party.”

But not all of Mr Williamson’s colleagues on the Labour benches believe weakening MPs’ role in the process is the right way forward.

One told The Independent: “Don’t forget that the threshold was put there because the MPs lost the sway that they had under the previous system, where there were three electoral colleges: MPs, unions and members.

“What we should be doing is going back to a version of that which also gives a say to councillors, who are Labour in action. That would be possible.

“But the idea that you would further cut the MPs is an absurdity.”

Richard Angell, of the centrist pressure group Progress, closely associated with the New Labour years, told The Independent he still stood by his new year’s resolution to oppose the amendment adding: “It’s a crucial decision for the Labour Party.”

The Independent revealed earlier this year how elements of the Labour right launched a new plan to rein in Mr Corbyn, that would water down his influence on the party’s National Executive Committee.

The change backed by the party’s right would reduce the proportion of seats on the NEC directly elected by party members and increase the proportion appointed by councillors, thought to be less well disposed to the leader.

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