The Case for Mandatory Reselection: Strengthening Democracy and Accountability in the Labour Party
In the realm of politics, where the will of the people should reign supreme, it is imperative that elected representatives not only embody the desires and aspirations of their constituents but also remain accountable to them. Sadly, recent events within the Labour Party have demonstrated a disconnect between MPs and their members, leading to unnecessary divisions and eroding the Party’s reputation.
The phenomenon of MPs crossing the floor or defecting to other parties has become all too familiar, leaving their constituents feeling neglected and betrayed. Take, for example, the case of Chuka Umunna, who brazenly claimed he “never felt totally comfortable in the Labour Party” before abandoning ship. Had mandatory reselection been in place, his concerns and the response of the membership could have been adequately addressed at an earlier stage.
Through a full selection process, where MPs are required to renew their mandate with their members, the Labour Party could ensure a more representative democracy. Imagine if Umunna’s true sentiments had been revealed during this process—he may not have been selected, and the people of Streatham would have been truly represented by a Labour MP, as democratically mandated by their constituency.
The defections of Umunna and other MPs to Change UK and the Liberal Democrats starkly illustrate the extent to which many PLP members have deviated from their original selection commitments. Their lack of accountability and obligation to represent their constituents fuels discord and provides fodder for a hostile media intent on undermining the Party’s future electoral chances.
Therefore, it is imperative that all Labour MPs face a full reselection process, also known as “Open selection.” While this may not currently be in practice and must await the 2020 conference, the power to bring about this change lies within the hands of the membership through the trigger ballot process.
By triggering all Labour MPs, the negative stigma associated with rejection from the membership can be removed. Furthermore, it reinforces the principle of representation, wherein an MP remains accountable to their members and stands on their track record to be endorsed or not for another five years. Such a process opens doors to new talent and can serve as a powerful motivator for even the most lackluster of parliamentary members to achieve greatness.
In considering this issue, we cannot overlook the words of the esteemed Tony Benn, who eloquently framed the essence of democracy. “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?” Anyone who fails to answer the last question, as Benn asserts, does not live in a democratic system.
Therefore, the time has come for all Labour MPs to be triggered and subjected to a full reselection process. A Member of Parliament who diligently serves the people and performs their duties admirably should relish the opportunity of a long and prosperous career in representation, knowing they have the backing and endorsement of the membership.
Politics is a multifaceted endeavour that goes beyond the mere individual; it is about the abilities and capabilities that one brings to the table. Mandatory reselection allows for the infusion of fresh talent into the public arena, invigorating even the most stagnant parliamentary members. The majority of Labour Party members recognize the pressing need to reform the selection process for MPs.
Currently, a party member cannot challenge a sitting Labour MP unless they mount a negative campaign against them. This discourages potential candidates and has resulted in very few open contests in Labour-held seats over the past three decades. We must embrace a process that offers a fair chance to all candidates, eliminating the negative and divisive campaigning that has plagued our party. Let it be an open contest from the start, with no “jobs for life.”
Such an approach would enable local members and sitting MPs to compete for the Labour Party’s backing in general elections, running positive campaigns focused on the issues that truly resonate with local voters. This way, we can restore faith in our democracy, build trust, and ensure that elected representatives remain accountable to the people they are sworn to serve.
Tony Benn’s very famous quote addresses the relationship between power, representation and democracy. It should be a pillow and principle of democracy that ensure we never fall under the yoke of tyranny or worse still allow a representative to sit in a state of apathy knowing we as members cannot remove them.
- “What power have you got?”
- “Where did you get it from?”
- “In whose interests do you use it?”
- “To whom are you accountable?”
- “How do we get rid of you?”
“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system,” Benn explained.