Sat, 20 April 2024

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By Bishop of Leeds
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As Deputy Leader, Ian Murray will ensure Wales is at the heart of discussions about Labour’s future

4 min read

In a time when the future of the Union seems more uncertain than ever, it is staggering to think that we could end up with a ballot paper of only English MPs, writes Chris Elmore MP. 

The internal psychodrama that has recently defined the Labour Party has bubbled once more to the surface, thanks to the dual election of a new Labour leader and their deputy. Though the ballots are happening simultaneously, the reasons for them are interesting in and of themselves. Those colleagues of mine vying to become leader do so in the wake of Jeremy’s resignation following December’s crushing election defeat. The deputy vacancy, meanwhile, exists because the last post holder stepped aside ahead of what was then a possible Labour election win. In essence, one set of campaigns to replace the man who lost – and another to replace the man who could not countenance winning.

The rallying cry of the UK Labour Party in recent times has been of “opening the party up” and creating a “people powered mass movement”. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the system of electing our leader and deputy. But somewhere, things have gone awry, with competing motivations throwing up unexpected and unwelcome results. The Party leadership heralded the removal from the PLP of the sole right to nominate as a leap forward for party democracy, ensuring that never again could any candidate be kept off the ballot paper by MPs. It would ensure plurality of personality and opinion, giving the broadest possible range of both.

The reality could not be more different. The reasons for this are two-fold, and have their roots in the true motivation for the changes being ushered in – less to empower members, and more to clip the wings of MPs. Secondly, those imposing the changes either misunderstood, or less charitably understood all too well, that by demanding that candidates secured mandated levels of Trade Union, affiliate or constituency support, the field would be narrowed, not widened.

The CLP nomination system, in particular, was touted as an important cornerstone of Party democracy. But that failed to take into account that new members are excluded from participating in nomination meetings - even though they have a vote in the final ballot. Intentionally or not, this smacks of a fix. 

The old system may not have been perfect, but was at least transparent. Under the reformed system, the second phase of nominations favours big names, with big backers, and let’s be frank - the consequent cash to get around the country.

We can see already that the changes which were supposed to open up the field and give members the widest possible choice have disadvantaged candidates with important contributions to make. Jess Phillips out already and Emily Thornberry struggling. It is likely that we will end up with a shortlist of only three candidates - one fewer than in 2015. And we see the same problem in the Deputy Leadership. 

This lack of plurality is bad for the Labour Party, and it is bad for Wales. With challenging Assembly elections approaching in 2021, and a guaranteed four more years of grappling with Tory rule at Westminster, we need Wales - as well as Scotland - to be at the heart of the discussion about how we move forward as a Party.  It has been heartening to see Keir Starmer talking about a new, federal constitutional settlement - even if Carwyn Jones was calling for this long before it was fashionable!

But no one in the race has spoken about Wales and Welsh Labour as engagingly and passionately as Ian Murray has. As our only Scottish MP, he has proven time and time again he has the campaigning nous to take on the challenges of nationalism, and the understanding of the changes we need to preserve the Union. He is also the only MP standing in either the leadership or deputy leadership race from a constituency outside of England. In a time when the future of the Union seems more uncertain than ever, it is staggering to think that we could end up with a ballot paper of only English MPs.

Ian’s voice will improve the quality of the debate across the board - but it will be particularly important in ensuring that Wales remains at the heart of our discussions about Labour’s future. Thats why I will be backing him, and why I urge Welsh CLPs to do the same.


Chris Elmore is Labour MP for Ogmore. 


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