The rules of Regicide – how can the Labour Party get rid of Ed?

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November 11, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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I don’t want to spread mischief, but perhaps it is time to review the mechanisms that the Labour Party has for changing their leader. Put simply, it is not a quick nor easy process, and involves heads being stuck above parapets and considerable career harm should any coup fail. But given the ferocity of the whispering that is going on, and the ferocity of the denials being issued from putative leadership candidates, it might be wise to look at what would have to happen for Ed Miliband to be removed. Seeing how tough this is might be the start of long at whether it is wise to do so at all.

So, in order to try and change their leader, 20% of Labour MPs, which is 52 MPs, need to come forward to present a motion of “no confidence” in the leader.

That may seem simple, but here’s the most difficult bit. Those 52 MPs need to name the same alternative candidate. This means that someone has to agree to have their name put forward as the alternative, and that is the problem at the moment. Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary and Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary, are known to harbour leadership ambitions. But none of them has shown the inclination to achieve that as part of an organised coup. Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary when Labour were in government, and Shadow Chancellor under Miliband, has said he doesn’t want to return to frontline politics. So finding that alternative candidate will be a problem.

Then, what would usually happen is that a ‘card vote’ will take place, and this is at the party conference, which is why some Labour Party Conferences in the past have been the scene of fevered leadership speculation, such as in 2006 when Tony Blair was in charge, and in 2007 when it was rumoured David Miliband would challenge Gordon a Brown for the leadership. Labour hasn’t got a party conference until next Autumn, which would be too late for this  General Election, so a ‘special’ party conference would have to be convened. Should we get to that stage, one wonders whether Miliband would just resign? The truth is that Miliband resigning is probably the only way a change in leadership is going to happen. He MAY, although I doubt it, decide to say ‘put up or shut up’ and call the conference himself, inviting anyone else to stand against him. Can you really see that happening?

The last time there was a successful coup against a Labour Party leader was in 1935, when George Lansbury was unseated by the party having tried to block a conference motion that was calling for sanctions against Mussolini’s Italy.

The Conservatives find all this much easier. They need 15% of MPs to present a vote of no confidence in their leader to the 1922 committee. These letters are kept under lock and key, and are confidential. The current leader of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, may receive those 46 letters as a challenge to David Cameron should the Tories lose the Rochester and Strood by-election. His predecessor, Michael Spicer, had to use this mechanism in 2003 to unseat Iain Duncan-Smith and in 1990 it was Michael Heseltine who put himself up as a ‘stalking horse’ candidate to unseat Margaret Thatcher.

So, what should the a Labour Party do? They are six months from an election, and SHOULD be thinking about the policies that would be the best way forward for the country, however, many Labour MPs know that having those policies is pointless if you are not in power, and Ed Miliband is not seen by the country as a credible Prime Ministerial candidate. The problem for them is…who would be?

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4 thoughts on “The rules of Regicide – how can the Labour Party get rid of Ed?

  1. It’s obvious that the Tories and the right-wing press are going to go for Miliband and the pitch and frequency of this will increase as the election gets closer. It started way back with all the ‘red Ed’ nonsense – got nastier with the anti-Semitic insinuations and tropes about his dad (rootless cosmopolitan unpatriotic intellectual etc.) – and now it’s all about publishing as many photos as possible of him looking awkward or weird. In the same way these people are pushing the counter-intuitive lie that the financial crisis and the deficit is all the fault of Labour public spending (as opposed to reckless and greedy bankers) and that the troubles experienced by poor people are mostly caused by immigrants. Meanwhile be very afraid of Muslims etc. etc. Is it any surprise that Labour MPs are finding this relentless propaganda war reflected in people’s views on ‘the doorstep’? It’s about time Labour started to make a moral case for the interests of the 99% of us who are not super rich – and to counter Tory propaganda with a more robust narrative of their own. It’s not about ‘the politics of envy’ it’s about the reality of growing inequality. And they should refuse to get drawn into all this crap about Miliband’s leadership – that’s the Tory agenda and they’re playing right into it.

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    • I would agree it is very much the Tory agenda as they know Cameron wins on a “who would make the best Prime Minister” vote. But there ARE many in the Labour Party who just want Miliband to come out fighting with some actually far reaching policies – rather than just sticking plasters like a mansion tax or freezing energy prices or announcing a rise in the minimum wage to an amount that we would have been near anyway due to inflation. I think he was onto something with predistribution – but didn’t describe it well. I will have a go later in the week

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  2. Steven Banks says:

    I don’t think Heseltine regarded himself as a stalking horse candidate, although that the ultimate effect. There was one, Sir Anthony Meyer, the year before, which was the first crack in the wall. Heseltine suffered from being the one who held the dagger which has made subsequent potential political assassins nervous ever since.

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