November 11, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
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?