Labour needs a Westminster Leader.

JCWe all know that Nicola Sturgeon is the Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party. However, the SNP also have a Westminster Leader in Angus Robertson MP. Logically, the reason for this is because Nicola leads in the Scottish Parliament and does not have a seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Currently, the Labour Party is facing constitutional chaos with the popular elected Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, having faced a vote of no confidence undertaken by Labour Members of the Westminster Parliament. There is also a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, with an unpredictable outcome should he win the contest (i.e. will the Parliamentary Labour Party accept the result and support Jeremy Corbyn should he win). This article suggests that the Labour Party could take a lead from the SNP and have a Labour Party Leader and also a Westminster Leader.

There is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is a popular Labour Party Leader. His 2015 Party Leadership victory was overwhelming and the membership of the Labour Party has risen significantly due to his political message and campaigning.

While that is the case, it is also true that his campaigning style has never been popular within the Parliamentary Party. Indeed, in the 2015 Leadership contest he managed to scrape home with 36 nominations (with just minutes to spare) so that he could be considered as a validly nominated candidate. The irony being that some of those who nominated Jeremy, did so in order to enable a balanced political ticket – with the expectation that Jeremy Corbyn would simply make up the numbers and face early defeat.

Recently, the Labour MPs voted 172-40 in a vote of no confidence against Jeremy. Many claim that the Labour Party Leader lacks the charisma to lead them to a General Election victory. Because of such claims, the PLP have agreed to support a leadership challenge by Owen Smith. The problem for the PLP is what happens if Jeremy Corbyn wins this 2016 leadership contest? Will the Labour MP’s simply accept defeat and fall in line behind Corbyn? Will it lead to a split within the Labour Party? Will there be a legal fight over who can use the name of the Labour Party?

Perhaps a better approach may be for the Labour Group of Westminster MP’s to elect their own Westminster Leader. Somebody that they have trust and confidence to lead them at Westminster. This ballot amongst Labour MP’s could be held (after the inaugural appointment) on the day of the state opening of parliament each year. In this way, the Westminster Leader would be elected annually and not expected to be permanently in office or subject to sporadic votes of no confidence.

The obvious weakness in such a proposal is that we could see differences of opinion between the Labour Westminster Leader and the duly elected Labour Party Leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn). So what if we do, is that bad for democracy? If we take a topical and controversial topic like Iraq. Would it be so bad if the Westminster Leader openly disagreed with the Labour Party Leader (or vice versa)? In a democracy, we should welcome differences of opinion over policy issues.

Another perceived problem could arise when the Labour Party win a General Election. Who sits in Number 10 – the Westminster Leader or the Labour Party Leader? While I would prefer the Labour Party Leader to become Prime Minister, in reality any Prime Minister must be able to command majority support for policies being pursued in the House of Commons. Thus, logically, the decision of who should become PM must rest with the Westminster MP’s.

By splitting up Labour Party leadership powers in this way, we could see a strengthening of the Labour Party. Indeed, it could free up Jeremy Corbyn to campaign within the community/country and on issues that promote the Labour Party message.

At the same time, the Westminster Leader would be free to focus on activities in parliament. While doing that job, he or she will be looking over their shoulder in the Commons for the voice, conscience, and Leader of the Labour Party.

Also published in Great British Politics.GBP

About Dr Peter Jepson

Dr Peter Jepson. Libertarian Socialist.
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