Labour’s national executive committee will on Wednesday agree a lengthy timetable for the increasingly tangled party leadership election with plans for a ballot and count ending either in the first weeks of September or as late as October.
It has been agreed that the result should not be announced at the party’s annual conference starting on 27 or 28 September but at a special conference a fortnight before or after.
Plans to complete the election quickly by the summer have been shelved partly because of union leaders. They have admitted they need more time to recruit political levy payers to register as party supporters and so have a vote in the contest. The election is being held by a new system agreed in February 2014 and to be overseen by the Electoral Reform Society.
Moves are under way to ensure that either the leader or the deputy leader is a woman, a shelved proposal advanced by Harriet Harman that has now been revived since she became interim leader.
Advocates of the reform are suggesting the party first elect a leader and then hold a separate election for a deputy with a requirement that the the person selected cannot be the same gender as the leader. In an already complex set of arrangements, some union leaders are pressing for two deputy leaders with one focused on party organisation and the other acting as the political deputy to the leader.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home affairs secretary, is expected to launch her bid for the leadership on Thursday. Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, in a visit to the marginal seats of Swindon confirmed he was standing, joining shadow health minister Liz Kendall in what is likely to become a crowded field.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, is also planning to run while the left of the party is canvassing to see if it can win backing for a run by either Ian Lavery or Jon Trickett. Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary, has not ruled out a bid. Any candidate will need nominations from at least 35 MPs.
A ballot result in early September would give the new leader and their team time to prepare to use the party conference as a platform to set out their thinking. A ballot delayed until October would turn the conference into a giant hustings meeting and would possibly underline the differences ricocheting across the party, as rival groups brief against their rivals .
But the unions say they need more time to recruit their political levy payers as party supporters. A union would require any such payer to sign a form saying they were Labour supporters and their names would then have to be crosschecked by the party to see that they are on the electoral register.
Some estimates suggest the party membership will have reached as high as 230,000, but the unions will have recruited fewer than 100,000 of its levy payers to be party supporters, a big reduction in its influence compared with the old electoral college that gave the unions a guaranteed third of the vote. The unions are no longer to be responsible for the despatch of the ballot papers and will be debarred from sending literature backing one candidate with the ballot paper.
In addition, registered party supporters will be entitled to vote so long as they pay a nominal fee.
Often seen as too slick and London-centric, Umunna posted a video on his Facebook page to say he has no truck with those who say Labour is currently unelectable. He said: “I think the Labour party can do it in five years. I want to lead that effort as part of a really big Labour team, getting Labour back into office.” Umunna has recruited MPs Emma Reynolds, Jonny Reynolds and Stephen Twigg to his team
In one of the least restrained responses to the election defeat, Michael Dugher, the shadow transport secretary, said the party’s approach to the Scottish independence referendum “was an unmitigated disaster. We totally fucked up that referendum campaign – and that would almost be a generous and kind interpretation”.
He told the New Statesman magazine: “There was a highly visible elephant trap that the SNP set for us, which is that Labour and [the ‘no’ campaign] would be for the status quo, for Westminster, for London, for the old political establishment and elites – and Scottish Labour all joined hands and they jumped into that elephant trap.
He added: “We shouldn’t have been in bed with the Tories. It was a complete strategic disaster. It killed us.”
Joining the deputy leadership contest is the former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw with a plea to the party to reach out to voters in southern England.
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