The McDonnell Amendment to change Labour leadership rules shows a fear of democracy


September 25, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith


The Labour conference is expected to vote on a change in the leadership rules that would require candidates to have the support of 10 per cent of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and MEPs, down from the present 15 per cent threshold. This has already been voted through by the National Executive Committee (NEC) and there will be a vote at conference, which is likely to be a formality. But is it right?

The change is needed, according to Corbynistas, because, put simply, MPs and MEPs tend to be less left-wing than Jeremy Corbyn. So, every time there has been a leadership contest, the normally sacrificial  left-wing candidate has to ‘borrow’ nominations just to be on the ballot. This happened with Diane Abbott in 2010 and Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, who was nominated by the likes of moderates Sadiq Khan and Margaret Beckett to ‘widen the debate’. The requirement also meant that John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor), couldn’t get enough nominations in 2007 to challenge Gordon Brown for the party leadership. Hence McDonnell is sponsoring the amendment to the rules, and it is called the ‘McDonnell amendment’.

Chris Williamson, the shadow minister for Fire and Emergency services, said he was “very, very positive” that the changes would be passed, but that they did not go far enough. “There shouldn’t be a leadership threshold at all,” he told The Guardian. “That needs to change. Who are the PLP? They are a tiny percentage of the party. If we’re going to have a threshold it should be CLPs [constituency Labour parties]. But that’s not the proposition. The proposition is to reduce the threshold. I’ll settle for that. Why are people so frightened of democracy?”

I might ask Williamson the same question, because it is in fact he who is frightened of democracy. Like in the Brexit debate, people involved in this debate have decided they get to define what democracy is. With Brexit, Leavers think it is direct democracy (because that’s how they won) and Remainers think it is representative democracy (because direct democracy is how leave won).

Here, Chris Williamson, Momentum, John Mcdonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have decided that ‘democracy’ is what the 500,000 Labour members vote for (or the 300,000 or so votes Corbyn won in the 2016 leadership election). Williamson’s argument is that there shouldn’t be a leadership threshold because he knows that the majority of Labour members at the moment are Corbyn-supporters, which is convenient for his definition of democracy.

But Williamson also says ‘Who are the PLP? They are a tiny percentage of the party.’

Well, yes, there are ‘only’ 262 Labour MPs. But how many people voted for those MPs in the 2017 General Election? I can tell you – it is 7,339,916. Yes, over seven million people voted for the members of Parliament who are in the Parliamentary Labour Party. That’s who the PLP are, Chris Williamson, the representatives of 7,339,916 people. That’s almost 25 times the number of people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour leader, and over 12 times the number of members the Labour Party have in total. I haven’t even started with those who voted for the MEPs. I’m also not even counting the five million more people who voted for Labour candidates who didn’t win.

Voting in a General Election is generally regarded as the purest form of democracy. So, who is afraid of democracy now?



. That’s the number of people who voted for those 262 MPs. That’s the number of people those MPs represent. So, before I’ve even looked at how many people voted for Labour’s MEPs, I am already on over ten times the number of people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour party leader. Over six times the number of members of the whole party.

Surely the ultimate expression of democracy in this country is voting in a General election. So, who’s afraid of democracy now?

3 thoughts on “The McDonnell Amendment to change Labour leadership rules shows a fear of democracy

  1. Roisin Babuta says:

    Nothing was more sinister or undemocratic than the way in which New Labour got rid of socialism.I still have to justify PFI on the doorsteps in Ealing.There are many wAys of defeating democracy-many labour supporters felt disenfranchised by 2007. Many of usgritted our teeth through all the sell offs.Not sure this is any more undemocratic than any of the other shenanigans the parties get up to!The lib dems went into coalition with the tories – who voted for that?
    If the vote share decreases next time it is a bad decision and undemocratic.If it goes up, it was a good decision and undemocratic.
    Happens all the time!If I was a woman who voted Tory and had to have an abortion I would be livid about the dup deal …I could go on!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. politicalcakestand says:

    Quite interesting blog post!
    Personally, I am pro-Corbyn but this isn’t really connected to my choice of supporting a lower threshold for leadership candidates. I wouldn’t necessarily use ‘democracy’ to explain why I am in favour of it without further defining it. Instead I would – more concretely – say that it would give more power to the members. Regarding internal Labour Party politics this would hence be more democratic. The electorate will be given a choice in the next general election.
    To be seen as a good party to form a government, a political party should at least show that its internal rulings respect the party membership (in my view it generally makes a party more diverse and representative).
    I also support measures like proportional representation and votes at 16.


    • Oh I can totally see the reason for giving more power to the members. My problem was Chris Williamson’s words of ‘Who are the PLP? They are only a few people’. No they are not – they represent over 7 million people.

      Liked by 1 person

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