Labour to vote on leader's power

Labour's new leader will be able to hire and fire his or her shadow cabinet under radical reforms drawn up by the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett.

After the summer recess the Parliamentary Labour Party will be balloted on a series of measures handing far greater power to whoever is elected leader three weeks later. At least 40 Labour MPs, including some only elected in May, had been expected to put their names forward for the shadow cabinet elections, due to be held in early October. But senior Labour figures are pressing for the "nuclear option" of allowing the new leader free rein, to avoid Tony Blair's pre-1997 predicament of having the unlikely figures of Clare Short and Gavin Strang around his top table.

Other options include a 50:50 split of elected and appointed shadow cabinet members, a quota for women and having a directly elected chief whip. Mrs Beckett warned would-be shadow ministers that it was "harder work than being in the Cabinet. There is no civil service briefing on which to rely. But it can be done."

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