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IN THE MATTER OF THE ELECTION OF THE LEADER OF THE LABOUR

PARTY
OPINION

Instructions and Background


1.

We are instructed by the General Secretary of Unite the Union to advise on whether the
incumbent leader of the Labour Party should be automatically on the ballot paper in the
event that there is a challenge to his leadership resulting in an election.

2.

This advice is based upon the premise that the current leader has not resigned so there is
no vacancy for leader.

Applicable Rules
3.

In drafting this advice we have relied primarily on the 2016 Labour Party Rule Book
(the 2016 Rules). The relevant rules governing the elections of the leader of the
Labour Party can be found in Chapter 4 of the 2016 Rules which is set out in full below:
Clause
Procedural rules for elections for national officers of the Party
1.

General
A.

2.

II.

The following procedures provide a rules framework which,


unless varied by the consent of the NEC, shall be followed when
conducting elections for Party officers. The NEC will also issue
procedural guidelines on nominations, timetable, codes of
conduct for candidates and other matters relating to the conduct
of these elections.

Election of leader and deputy leader


A.

The leader and deputy leader shall be elected separately in


accordance with rule C below, unless rule E below applies.

B.

Nomination
i.

In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each


nomination must be supported by 15 per cent of the
combined Commons members of the PLP and members of
the EPLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall
be null and void.

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ii.

Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by


potential challengers each year prior to the annual
session of Party conference. In this case any nomination
must be supported by 20 per cent of the combined
Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP.
Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and
void.

iii.

Affiliated organisations, the ALC, Young Labour, and


CLPs may also nominate for each of the offices of leader
and deputy leader. All nominees must be Commons
members of the PLP.

iv.

Nominees shall inform the General Secretary in writing of


the acceptance or otherwise of their nomination at least
two clear weeks before the commencement of the
procedures for voting laid out in rule C below. Unless
written consent to nomination is received, nominations
shall be rendered null and void.

v.

Valid nominations shall be printed in the final agenda for


Party conference, together with the names of the
nominating organisations and Commons members of the
PLP supporting the nominations. In the case of a vacancy
under E below this information shall be included with the
documentation circulated with any ballot.

vi.

Nominees who do not attend the relevant Party conference


shall be deemed to have withdrawn their nominations,
unless they send to the General Secretary on or before
the day on which the conference opens an explanation in
writing of their absence satisfactory to the CAC.

Discussion of the Rules


4.

In Clause 2B(i), where there is a vacancy for leadership each person wishing to be
nominated must be supported by 15% of the combined members of the Parliamentary
Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP).

5.

The relevant clause for the purpose of this advice is Clause 2B(ii) which expressly deals
with the situation where there is no vacancy. As the current leader has not resigned it
necessarily follows that there is no vacancy for the leadership of the Labour Party. Any
other construction would require either that (i) there is permanently a vacancy for the
leadership of the Labour Party; or (ii) that a vacancy arises as soon as there is a
challenge. Either scenario is plainly wrong. The first scenario cannot be correct as the
Labour Party has a leader. The second scenario cannot be correct as there is no

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provision in the constitution requiring that the leadership of the Labour Party is vacated
as soon as there is a challenge. Any alternative interpretation that we give would
plainly be grammatically and logically untenable.
6.

Clause B(ii) does allow for the leader to be challenged, in that nominations may be
sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual conference. In this case
any nomination must be supported by 20% of the combined members of the PLP and
members of the EPLP. It follows that the challenger must have the support of at least
20% of the combined members of the PLP and the EPLP. This is higher than the
proportion required when there is a vacancy. Clearly, the 2016 Rules intend to make it
more difficult for a person to obtain the required number of signatures to challenge an
incumbent leader, than for a person to seek a nomination when a vacancy exists.

7.

There is no specific provision that expressly states that an incumbent falls off the ballot
as soon as a challenger with the requisite nominations appears. However, the wording
makes clear and unambiguous reference to the 20% of signatures being required by
potential challengers. It must follow that under any construction of this Clause it is
not envisaged that those being challenged i.e. the leader of the party, should reach the
20% threshold. On no reasonable interpretation is an incumbent a potential challenger:
they cannot be challenging themselves.

8.

Furthermore, if there was an incumbent leader but an election was triggered and
nominations were sought for potential challengers, it is conceivable that no potential
challenger would achieve the 20% threshold. In such a scenario, if the leader also had
to obtain the 20% threshold this could lead to the absurd position where the Party would
be left with no leader.

9.

Further, there is no provision in the 2016 Rules which requires that an incumbent has to
be nominated. The 2016 Rules specify that any nomination by a potential challenger
may be sought each year in time for the annual conference. If there is no challenger
then as a matter of established fact there is no election for leader: the incumbent remains
leader. It must follow that an incumbent is not required to be nominated each year.
There is no provision in the 2016 Rules to say that the nomination of a potential
challenger changes the position that an incumbent leader in fact requires a nomination
under the 20% procedure.

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10.

Clause 2B (v) states that valid nominations should be in the final agenda for Labour
Party Conference. The 2016 rules envisaged that this will be at the annual party
conference but the NEC does have the power under Chapter 3 Clause III to call a
conference at short notice outside this period.

Conclusion
11.

The rules by which the Labour Party is governed are unambiguous: the leader does not
require any signatures to be nominated in a leadership election where there is a potential
challenger to the leadership.

MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC
MARK MCDONALD
MANSFIELD CHAMBERS

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