Labour Leadership

What is the Labour leadership?

The Labour party leader heads the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and is appointed as Prime Minister when the party holds a majority in the House of Commons. In practice, the leader shapes the direction and policy of the party.

Tony Blair led the Labour party from 1994 but announced after the 2005 election that he would not seek a fourth term in government. Mr Blair had initially been expected to resign at the end of his third parliamentary term. However, under pressure from party members he confirmed in 2006 that he would stand down as leader and Prime Minister in 2007.

He was succeeded by Gordon Brown who served as leader of the party and Prime Minister from June 2007 until May 2010. The current party leader, Ed Miliband, was elected on 25th September 2010 having beaten four other candidates, including his brother David, in a highly publicised and tightly fought contest.

Background

The Labour party is technically "under the direction and control of the party conference". Held annually, it is at the Labour Party Conference (LPC) that policy is formulated and the National Executive Committee (NEC) elected. The NEC "takes the political and management decisions for the party outside the LPC". It thereby governs the party at a national level, along with the National Policy Forum and the LPC.

In practice the leader of the PLP leads the party. The leader is elected by the PLP (which is made up of all Labour MPs), trade union members affiliated to the Labour party, and ordinary party members. Each group is weighted to represent a third of the final vote. In this way, the selection of Labour leader is designed to reflect the party's foundations. To get on to the leadership ballot candidates must have the support of 12.5 per cent of MPs.

Controversies

Tony Blair was forced to confirm he would stand down before September 2007 after what many described as an attempted leadership coup in summer 2006. In May 2006, 50 Labour MPs were understood to have signed a letter calling for Mr Blair to name the date of his departure. At the time, Gordon Brown called for an "orderly" handover of power and attempted to refute suggestions his supporters were attempting to oust Mr Blair. Further pressure from MPs in September forced Mr Blair to announce he would leave within 12 months.

By confirming his departure in 2007, critics claimed Mr Blair risked becoming a lame duck Prime Minister.

The chancellor Gordon Brown had long been regarded as the "natural successor" to Mr Blair, following the so-called Granita Deal when Mr Blair allegedly promised Mr Brown he would step aside as leader.

Members opposed to New Labour hoped the 2007 leadership election would return a leader from the party's traditional left-wing. The former environment minister Michael Meacher announced his intention to stand, along with John McDonnell. To avoid splitting the left-wing vote, they announced only the candidate with the most support would seek MPs' backing to make it on to the ballot.

Various other names were circulated as an alternative to a 'Brown coronation'. The then environment secretary David Miliband was promoted as a credible candidate but eventually announced his support for Gordon Brown, as did several other possible contenders including Alan Johnson and John Reid who at the time were education secretary and home secretary respectively.

Michael Meacher decided to withdraw from the race giving his support to John McDonnell. However, the latter failed to attract the requisite number of backers, leaving Gordon Brown as the only nominated candidate. He was subsequently confirmed as leader on 24 June, 2007.

Although widely respected for his handling of the economy during his long tenure as Chancellor, Gordon Brown was less successful as Prime Minister. He remained a somewhat divisive figure within his own party and with support for Labour falling markedly under his leadership, several MPs on more than one occasion called for his resignation. Following the General Election, and after failing to persuade the Lib Dems to form a coalition government with Labour, Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister and leader of the party on 11th May 2010.

Shortly afterwards former energy secretary Ed Miliband announced his intention to stand in the leadership race and under Labour's electoral college voting system was narrowly elected over his brother David in the fourth and final round of voting. Of the other contestants, Diane Abbott was eliminated in the first round, Andy Burnham in the second and Ed Balls in the third.

Statistics

Labour leadership election 2010
Summary of voting by round:

Diane Abbott - round one: 7.42 %
Andy Burnham - round one: 8.68%; round two: 10.41%
Ed Balls - round one: 11.79%; round two: 13.23%; round three: 16.02%
David Miliband - round one: 37.38%; round two: 38.89%; round three: 42.72%; round four: 49.35%
Ed Miliband - round one: 34.33%; round two: 37.47%; round three: 41.26%; round four: 50.65%

Source: Labour Party - 2010

Quotes

"..It is clear to me that there is a progressive majority in Britain and I believe it could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government. If the national interest can be served by such a coalition then I should discharge the duty to form that government.

"I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure that the path to progress is assured. The reason we have a hung Parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. As the leader of this great party, I must accept that is a judgement on me. Therefore I intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the process needed for a leadership election."

Gordon Brown, resignation email to Labour members - 10th May 2010

"Today a new generation has taken charge of Labour. A new generation that understands the call for change.....Today's election turns the page because a new generation has stepped forward. To serve our party and I hope, in time, to serve our country. Today the work of the new generation begins."

Ed Miliband, leadership acceptance speech - 25th September 2010

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