Labour members are all cock-a-hoop that they may yet get the chance to select the next leader. But what will actually happen?
We can only really look at the recent history of the UK to discover what will happen.
Allowing members to vote on the leader of the parliamentary party sounds like a good idea in theory but what is it like in practice?
Well firstly such a scheme is always, based on the evidence, great for membership growth. Both the Labour party and the Conservative party saw growth in membership as a result of their respective rules around members selecting the leadership.
In 2001 the Conservative party had such a rule and a 5 way leadership battle. Ultimately the membership selected Iain Duncan-Smith, with the backing of the arch-conservatives and the Thatcherites. He was the perfect choice for the membership of the Conservative Party and precisely the wrong choice to try and get votes off of the Labour party. Ultimately the experiment was a failure:
Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership was widely regarded as a disaster for the Conservatives, with the party’s poll ratings declining to under 30% at times. After just two years in the job, IDS lost a confidence vote amongst Conservative MPs and was replaced as leader by Michael Howard.
The Conservatives woke up and have since removed the provision. It cost them several cycles in lost ground.
The Labour party too allows membership to select the leader and the most recent occurrence saw Ed Miliband selected over his brother David Miliband by the membership in 2010.
Again it was a 5 way challenge, with three strong candidates. Ed and David Miliband and Ed Balls.Like New Zealand labour the unions get a separate vote. In teh nominations Ed Miliband actually trailed his brother. It took 4 ballots for him to finally win and at the previous 3 ballots Ed Miliband was always second behind his brother. Eventually he succeeded and the labour membership had elected the second best candidate to their leadership.
Ed Miliband has been as effective as David Shearer as leader.
Both of these cases show that if you allow the membership to choose the leader they invariably choose the wrong candidate. They select someone who represents the memberships values rather than the electorates values, and in both cases someone unelectable as Prime Minister, though Ed Miliband has yet to be tested in that regard.
Labour too faces this now, and I suspect that they will select someone who appeals to Martyn Bradbury, the lap-bloggers at The Standard and the union thugs…that person is David Cunliffe…who like Ed Miliband is a toff who went to the right schools, lives in the leafy suburbs away from the riff raff of his much poorer electorate. They even peaks the right way.
A leader must appeal across party lines and the problem with membership elections is they tend to select people who appeal to their own way of thinking, not the middle.
Another problem is that it divides the party itself, and they have huge job on their hand uniting it afterward. In Labour’s case, these divisions are what’s been holding back progress for years. Running a public extended leadership battle isn’t going to be good for the party. it is much better to be done behind closed doors, over a weekend, and come out looking like a united force with everyone on the same page and all the knives back in the drawer.
If the vote goes to the members without the caucus stitching up the election then David Cunliffe will win.