Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has shifted radically away from the centre-left ground it used to hold under the Blair and Brown governments, and even the Miliband leadership. Corbyn has taken the party in a new far-left direction, backed by the support of Labour’s grassroot members, and often much to the concern of the parliamentary party.
With party conferences on the horizon, this newly focussed Labour party faces a fresh challenge to avoid the ever-increasing slip into radical socialism. Party members will vote at the Labour Conference on whether or not the current threshold of 15% of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) will be needed to support a leadership bid. Chris Williamson MP, a key ally of Corbyn and current shadow fire minister, argues that those who oppose these changes are frightened of democracy.
Critics are calling the proposed change the “Mcdonnell amendment” as it would allow shadow chancellor John McDonnell, or another key Corbyn ally, ease of access onto the leadership ballot. The change would lower the number of supportive MPs needed to qualify a leadership candidate. Proposed changes would push the number of MPs required to support a bid down to 5% from the current 15%.
This change is being pushed fiercely by Corbyn and his supporters, as it would pave the way for more far-left-leaning candidates to stand for leadership, and continue the momentum the far-left currently have in the party. The likes of McDonnell and Chris Williamson will view this change as allowing them a significantly better shot at the leadership of the party, and these figures expect the conference to vote through the changes off the back of the recent General Election success in the party. Corbyn has, to many Labour supporters, delivered, and it may be that it is this view that prevails among the majority of the party members, allowing this change to be forced through and determine the landscape of Labour leadership elections for the foreseeable political future.
This development betrays the continued division between the two main groups of Labour supporters, members and MPs. The majority of MPs, yet minority of members, support the more tempered centre-left position the party has taken for many years. Yet the majority of grassroot supporters of the party favour Corbyn’s new direction. This disparity will be on display in the days running up to the conference, as critics of the change voice their opinions from largely inside the Palace of Westminster, whilst supporters of the amendment respond from across the country. The Parliamentary Labour Party, attacked by Chris Williamson in his defence of the changes, is out of touch with the vast majority of Labour’s grassroot support base. This is a polarised party, Corbyn and his cronies are gradually reducing the freedom the centrist MPs currently hold to influence leadership elections, and wider than that – the very direction of the party they represent. Instead they are ringing true to the beliefs of the current party leader, this move take away the power of the MPs, and instead, gives greater power to the people.