How will the Labour leadership contest work?

The race to become party leader – and deputy – will begin this week, with new rules as well as new slogans

When does the Labour leadership race kick off?

Campaigning has already begun, with candidates including Jess Phillips and Sir Keir Starmer having launched videos and slogans (“Speak Truth. Win Power” and “Another Future is Possible”, respectively).

But the contest will only formally begin on Monday, after Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) meets to set the timetable and rules. It will actually be two races, since Tom Watson’s departure at the outset of the general election campaign means Labour must choose a new deputy leader, too.

Who chooses?

Labour’s half a million or so members will make the final decision, via a preferential ballot.

That means if any candidate wins more than half the votes, they will be declared the winner; if they don’t, the least popular candidate is eliminated, and their supporters’ votes are redistributed to their second-choice candidate. That process is repeated until one candidate has more than half the votes.

But in order to get on to the ballot paper, candidates are likely to have to meet two other tests, according to rule changes made at the 2018 Labour conference. They will need 21 MPs and MEPs to support them, plus the backing of either 5% of local parties, or three affiliates – including two trade unions – representing at least 5% of affiliated members.

Could the NEC change the rules?

Yes: the key section in the latest edition of the party’s rulebook includes the caveat, “unless varied by the consent of the NEC”.

Labour insiders say the nomination thresholds were the result of a hard-fought compromise and are unlikely to be unpicked by the NEC, whose members may fear accusations that they are trying to stitch up the race.

But the timetable is yet to be determined, as is precisely who will be able to vote – though Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, has said she would like it to be completed by the end of March.

The rulebook as it stands says: “The freeze date for eligibility to vote shall be not less than two weeks after the approved timetable is announced and not less than three weeks before the deadline for receipt of ballot papers” – but the NEC will have to confirm that.

Some candidates who feel their natural supporters may lie outside the existing pro-Corbyn membership, including Phillips, have been encouraging people to sign up.

Will registered supporters be able to sign up to have a say?

It is unclear as yet. In 2015, many Corbyn supporters signed up for £3 to vote for him, becoming known by some in the party as “three quidders”. For the 2016 Owen Smith leadership challenge, the cost of registering support was increased to £25, and they were given just 48 hours to sign up.

Labour’s rulebook says registered supporters will be able to vote: but it is unclear how much they will have to pay, or what the cutoff date would be.


Heather Stewart Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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