Labour leadership rules explained: What the hopefuls have to do now to win the top job

Posted On: 
13th January 2020

Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry have all won the backing of enough MPs and MEPs to make it through to the next stage of the Labour leadership race. Matt Honeycombe-Foster explains what happens next.

The Labour leadership race now turns to scooping up the support of local parties and unions.
Credit: 
PA

The first hurdle any MP hoping to step into Jeremy Corbyn's shoes or stand as deputy leader faced was to convince enough of their Parliamentary colleagues to back them - a challenge cleared by Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry.

But winning over MPs and MEPs is just the start of the contest - and attention will now turn to their efforts to get trade unions and local parties on board.

Under Labour's rules, both leader and deputy leader hopefuls need the backing of either grassroots Labour parties - known as Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) - or a crop of Labour’s affiliates, which include its powerful trade union backers, to get onto the final ballot that will go to a vote of all members.

There are two routes to overcoming this hurdle once an MP has their parliamentary colleagues on board: firstly, they can win the backing of 5% of CLPs.

At Labour’s current size, that would mean members of at least 33 CLPs across the country voting to nominate a candidate in order to get them into the contest proper.

Alternatively, they can make it onto the ballot with the support of three affiliates.

Affiliates include trade unions and the wide range of socialist societies such as the Fabian Society and Jewish Labour Movement that are formally tied to the party. The unions are the real powerbrokers here though - the party’s current rules state that two out of three of the affiliate organisations must be trade unions, making it impossible for a candidate to make it onto the ballot without either strong union or grassroots backing.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer got an early boost when the country's biggest union - Unison - declared its backing for his bid.

Winning over the membership

Appropriately enough, that bid to win the hearts of Labour parties and unions wraps up on Valentine's Day.

And just days later we get on with the contest proper: winning over Labour’s members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. But who exactly are they?

Labour says it has “well over half a million members” (although it does not routinely publish numbers), and the party uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system meaning every members’ vote counts for the same.

Anyone who joined Labour before 20 January will be able to vote in the contest, it has been confirmed - a change from the 2016 race when a retrospective cut-off date was applied.

On top of those full-time fee-paying members, the party has two other forms of backer who can cast their vote: affiliated supporters and registered supporters.

Affiliated supporters are those who are members of one of Labour’s affiliates (the trade unions and socialist societies mentioned above). Their membership of the affiliate automatically gives them a vote in a leadership election provided they joined that affiliate before 20 January.

The third category, registered supporters, is slightly more complicated. These are people eligible to pay a one-off fee to take part in the leadership election - boosting the party’s coffers in exchange for a say over its future.

The fee, brought in by Ed Miliband, was set at just £3 during Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership bid in 2015 - a move that opened up the party to claims of left-wing ‘entryism’ - but that was raised to £25 for the 2016 contest triggered by Owen Smith’s ill-fated challenge to the Labour leader.

This time around, the fee will stay at £25. And the NEC has decided that those wishing to take part in this way will have to register during a 48-hour window between 14 and 16 January.

How does the voting actually take place?

Labour members and supporters cast their ballots by post or online and the election takes place under the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) system.

Under AV, candidates are ranked in order of preference. If a candidate wins more than 50% of the first preference vote they are declared the winner outright and there are no more rounds. But if no candidate scoops more than 50%, the candidate with the least support is eliminated and their second preferences are allocated to the remaining candidates.

This process of redestributing votes goes on until one candidate hits that crucial 50%+ threshold.

While it's a fairly technical point, AV can add a final element of drama to the race to find a Labour leader. Famously, Ed Miliband beat his brother David to the leadership in 2010 despite receiving fewer first preference votes than the man widely seen as the frontrunner.

When will we know who's won?

The winner will be declared at a special conference on Saturday 4 April.

Here's a cut-out-and-keep timetable to how the remaining few weeks will play out.

  •     Tuesday 14 January, 5pm: 48-hour window to apply to become a registered supporter opens
  •     Thursday 16 January, 5pm: Applications for registered supporters closes
  •     Wednesday 15 January: Second stage of nominations (CLPs and affiliates) opens
  •     Monday 20 January, 5pm: Cut-off date for new members and affiliated supporters to join
  •     Friday 14 February: Second stage of nominations closes
  •     Friday 21 February: Ballot of Labour members opens
  •     Thursday 2 April, 12pm: Ballot closes
  •     Saturday 4 April: Special Labour conference is held to announce results