openDemocracyUK

Abbott makes the ballot for the Labour leadership

The left-wing Labour MP Diane Abott is in the running for the party leadership promising a much fuller and more interesting debate,
Guy Aitchison
9 June 2010

Diane Abbott has made it on to the ballot for the Labour leadership at the 11th hour, hitting the 33 nominations mark with the help of David Miliband and that of his supporters Chris Bryant, Denis MacShane, Stephen Twigg, Meg Hillier, and Fiona MacTaggart.

Paul Waugh has a full account of Abbott’s last ditch effort to get the nominations on his blog. Apparently, MIliband personally rang McDonnell supporters to ask them to back the Hackney North MP.

It is disappointing that McDonell, an independent man of principle with strong links to the unions and an honourable record of opposing New Labour’s wars and privatisations, isn’t on the ballot but Abbot’s nomination is welcome.

She becomes the first black woman to stand for the leadership of a major political party. This will inevitably lead to much talk about the breadth and diversity of the race and the other candidates will be pleased since they think this enhances their own legitimacy (provided she doesn’t win!). But the Labour party should consider why the nominations process was such a farce in the first place and review its own internal democracy. After all, the party only narrowly avoided a race restricted to a trio of 40-something white Oxford graduates firmly in the New Labour mould.

In particular, why was the choice of who is on the ballot paper that of MPs and not party members? And given the choice rested with MPs, why was there such an absurdly high threshold required for nominations (12.5% of the parliamentary party); a requirement that privileges former ministers and party elites with an established base of support?

We know the answer of course. As Jeremy Gilbert explained recently on OK, party democracy was dismantled by New Labour’s “modernising” leadership as part of their efforts to sideline members, who they viewed as an embarrassment, and reconcile the party to neo-liberalism. This has meant that candidates with strong grassroots support, like McDonnell, don’t get nominated.

Abbott’s hypocrisy for sending her son to public school having criticised others for doing the same is well known and she isn’t a pluralist either, being wedded to first past the post and Labour majority rule – precisely the attitude Stuart White says the party needs to overcome in a forthcoming post on OK. But with Abbott there is at least the choice of a candidate who opposed the Iraq war. And opposed it at the time, not in 2010! Until the Labour leadership faces up to what it did in Iraq and the great damage it wrought by attacking that country in defiance of domestic opinion then it can forget about renewal.

There will now be a series of hustings and debates. Voting will take place between August 16 and September 22 with Labour MPs and MEPs; Labour Party members; and members of affiliated organisations, such as trades unions and socialist societies being balloted. The winner will be announced on the first day of the Labour Party conference in Manchester on September 25.

I will be attending the first major hustings hosted by the New Statesman tonight and will report back on it later.

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