Labour members urged to reject plan for lower leadership threshold

John McDonnell MP

Labour members must resist attempts planned for 2017 to radically redraw party rules to give leftwing candidates a higher chance of success in future leadership contests, the director of a pressure group has said.

Richard Angell, of the centrist Progress group closely associated with the New Labour years, said it was his new year’s resolution to stop an amendment supported by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, which would lower the number of supportive MPs needed to qualify as a leadership candidate.

Currently, would-be candidates need the support of 15% of their parliamentary colleagues for their name to be added to the ballot. However, the Labour conference this year will vote on whether to lower the threshold to 5% of MPs.

The move is favoured by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn because it is viewed as an avenue to allow a continuity leftwing candidate to succeed him whenever he chooses to resign.

The amendment was put forward by a local constituency group and does not need the formal backing of Labour’s national executive committee to be put to conference.

An NEC source said they thought Labour delegates in their current political makeup would be unlikely to back such a controversial amendment at Labour’s next conference.

Angell wrote in a blog for the Progress website: “This pitiful threshold not only belittles the idea of leadership, it is an anathema to Labour’s commitment to parliamentary socialism and to Britain’s parliamentary democracy.

“Our system require the candidate to be prime minister to command overwhelming support on the treasury benches. The hard left’s amendment acknowledges that their candidate for leader will never command that kind of support.”

Angell suggested McDonnell was keen to lower the threshold for nomination because he was eager for the chance to run for the leadership himself, though McDonnell has publicly denied this and said he will never stand for the leadership of the Labour party.

The shadow chancellor recently tipped other members of the shadow cabinet to eventually succeed Corbyn, including the shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, and the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner.

A Labour source said it was clear both sides of the party would be mobilising long before conference. “Either way, it’s not a McDonnell amendment – that’s Progress trying to fire up their base,” the source said.

The move to lower the threshold is backed by Momentum, the grassroots movement set up after the election of Corbyn, and the leftwing Campaign for Labour party Democracy group, of which Corbyn was formerly a member.

Alice Perry, a member of Labour’s NEC, said party members focus should instead focus on getting ready to fight any snap general election. “The next Labour party conference is nine months away. A lot can happen in that time, including a possible general election,” she said.

“We saw the political landscape shift dramatically in 2016, Labour’s priority has to be to respond to the new challenges we face, articulate our own compelling, positive vision for the UK’s future and fight every election 2017 has in store, including some very important local elections.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, has told the Sunday Times that he backs a “fundamental rethink” of free movement rules after the UK exits the EU – far stronger language than used by the party leader.

“The rules on free movement have got to be changed or the way the rules operate has got to change,” he said. “People, when you talk to them about immigration, have a strong distinction in their mind between people who are coming here to work and contribute and those who are coming here to look for work, and I think that distinction is well worth exploring.”

Corbyn has previously said he believes the pitfalls of free movement have been exaggerated, and expressed doubts that a work permit system could be fairly applied.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Sunday 1st January 2017 17.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010