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Parliamentary Labour Party considers abolishing shadow cabinet elections

The Parliamentary Labour Party last night agreed to ballot this week on changes to its internal democracy – options include abolishing elections for all or part of the shadow cabinet, and, if elections are retained, reducing their frequency. The move will shock many members of the party at a time when all five leadership candidates  claim to be committed to increased democracy in the party.

The decision follows  a review of parliamentary party rules and standing orders chaired by Margaret Beckett, previously reported here, prompted partly by the need to bring provision for gender balance into line with general practice in the party. The options laid out by Margaret Beckett (which may be downloaded here) are as follows:

  1. The shadow cabinet may be wholly elected, or have all, half or one-third of its members appointed by the leader;
  2. Shadow Cabinet elections may be annually (as at present), every twop years or once in a parliament;
  3. In a welcome move, however, the Chief Whip may be elected once in a parliament, or continue to be appointed as at present.
  4. Reserved places for women (and men) could be set at roughly 30% (in line with the proportion of women members at present), 40%, 50%, or a phased increase from 30% to 50% by 2012.

The review group appears to have rejected a proposal to establish a backbenchers representation committee along the lines of the Tory 1922 committee that was promoted so that backbenchers have “their own voice and discussions” by Graham Allen MP who has been described by Labour Uncut as “the self-appointed representative …. of the backbencher against the machine”. Instead, it is proposed that the parliamentary committee (which includes 6 “backbenchers”, 6 government representatives and the parliamentary party officers but, confusingly, is also the name currently given to the shadow cabinet when in opposition) be established whether in opposition or in government.

The review and the decision-making timetable has been rushed in order that the shadow cabinet elections (if there are any) can be held immediately after the leadership election. The ballot will take place tomorrow (8th September) but a special meeting today of the parliamentary party called to discuss the proposals in detail may make amendments to the proposals which are to be put to the vote.

Few MPs will be familiar with the detail of  parliamentary party rules. Unsurprisingly therefore, most MPs would be surprised to discover Rule G1 which states:

Junior posts and front bench spokespersons shall be appointed by the Leader but the list shall be submitted to the PLP for approval.

This applies both to government and opposition but seems never to have been implemented. If it was implemented, perhaps it would put a different complexion on the suggestion that some shadow cabinet members be appointed by the Leader.


  1. I’m new to the party so don’t know how this currently works. Who elects the shadow cabinet currently?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      In recent years, the shadow cabinet has been elected by the parliamentary party. In government, all ministers are appointed by the leader/PM.

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