The difference between a coup and a vote of no confidence

The events in Turkey should have given pause for thought to those claiming Labour MPs mounted a coup against Corbyn. This is what a real coup looks like: people trying to take control of a country by military force.

But seemingly not: there are Corbyn supports who appear to genuinely believe that Labour MPs voting “No confidence” in their Leader is “anti-democratic”, a “coup” and means they should be punished.

Yet this is exactly how Jeremy Corbyn behaved towards every Leader of the Labour Party that went before him. He played a key role in Tony Benn’s challenge in 1988. At no point did he argue then that the Leader did not need nominations to appear on the ballot paper. It was understood by all that this was an essential requirement of the process.

The rules aren’t ambiguous at all. Clause II 2 B says:

Nomination

  1. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 15 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.

  2. Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of Party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.

The fact that the timetable now allows for candidates to receive supporting nominations from CLPs and affiliated organisations as well as the PLP makes it all the more obvious that nominations are required.

Likewise the lack of clear rules on what happens if a Leader loses a no confidence vote. They resign. For someone to carry on when they have lost the confidence of over 80% of their colleagues is unthinkable outside of a personality cult.The job is to lead the MPs: there is no presidential election. If you cannot lead your own MPs in opposition it is a safe bet that you won’t be able to lead them in Government and that you will never get the opportunity to find out.

Ann Black has published a report of the NEC meeting which sheds some light on the decisions they took. I can’t claim to understand them all – but I am shocked to learn that not only did they ignore the legal advice that all candidates needed nominations to appear on the ballot paper, but they allowed Corbyn to vote on this question despite him having a clear vested interest. It is not only a clear internal Labour Party rule that you don’t vote when you have a pecuniary interest in a subject under consideration, it is a requirement for elected officials. Ok so this was an internal meeting, but having been notified of the invitation to cast his vote, Corbyn should have gracefully declined.

It as been suggested that if Corbyn is re-elected, MPs will have “no choice” but to take frontbench positions. Given that Corbyn himself was never willing to do the heavy lifting in Parliament what possible justification could there be for this? Although Corbyn’s supporters focus on his left-wing credentials, his leadership is not a left-right issue. There are plenty of people who have had opinions across the left-right spectrum who have been competent shadow ministers or ministers. That really isn’t the issue: it is competence. Corbyn has shown very little competence and that is why he cannot continue. Having declared that they have no confidence in him, it would be hypocritical for MPs to join his frontbench – which means that even if he is re-elected, he will be unable to put together a leadership team.

Democracy means so much more than majority rule – it means respect for those who disagree with you. I personally want MPs who do what they believe to be the right thing – especially when that goes against the view of their Leader. Of course they should make their views clear internally first, which gives the leadership the opportunity to reconsider and often come back with a better idea. But in the end, if they feel strongly enough on an issue I want them to stand up and be counted. And that is what our MPs did – whether they voted for the no confidence motion or against.

So now we need to move on – and we need a Leader who can inspire confidence. Someone  who can point to the distant peaks that we want to get to one day, but is also able to navigate the foothills that get us closer to our goals. Someone who is able to apply their beliefs to the situation they face and think through the consequences of the different options before deciding what makes sense – and to talk this through with senior colleagues in private so that they can agree on the best way forwards. And above all, communicate their preferred course of action to the wider party and the electorate effectively.

Much as I admire Angela Eagle, I am becoming convinced that the right person for the job is Owen Smith. I look forward to hearing from the candidates in coming weeks.

In the meantime if you have read this far and you are not a long-standing member of the Labour Party but want to see the Labour Party start to win elections again so that we can make a real difference to people’s lives, sign up here to have your say in the forthcoming election. You only have until 5pm on Wednesday 20th July!

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