Labour’s ruling body will decide who becomes Britain’s ‘acting’ prime minister if Jeremy Corbyn suddenly has to quit No.10, under new plans set to be approved by the party’s conference.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) voted on Friday night to back a new rulebook change that would give its 39 members a veto over whoever replaces Corbyn should he have to vacate the post of Labour leader.
Dubbed by critics ‘the Politburo plan’, after the former Soviet Union’s ruling body, the move means that the NEC would tighten its grip over whoever is chosen as “acting leader” in government, pending a fresh party election that could last several weeks.
The plan also means that when Labour is in Opposition, the ruling body would be able to stop deputy leader Tom Watson from automatically becoming temporary leader.
He would now only do so if he has the explicit approval of the NEC, which represents members, MPs and trade unionists.
But it is the changes that will happen when Labour is in government that has caught the eye of several MPs.
Previously, the party rulebook stated only that a replacement prime minister would be appointed by the Cabinet “in consultation with the NEC”.
Now that consultation has been replaced by an effective veto.
The new rule, passed to HuffPost UK, states: “The Acting Leader’s powers only take effect when her/his appointment has been approved by the NEC.”
Labour’s full conference is now expected to pass the new rule change, amid speculation from some MPs that it appears to be part of ‘post-Corbyn planning’, whether the leader wins or loses the snap election.
On the eve of the gathering in Brighton, the party was plunged into fresh internal strife after Momentum founder Jon Lansman tabled a motion to abolish Watson’s deputy leader role.
Jeremy Corbyn stopped the motion from going ahead on Saturday and instead there will be a ‘review’ of the deputy leader role and ‘other positions in support of the leader’.
But before Lansman’s controversial motion was tabled the NEC approved a brand new wording for the ‘acting leader’ rules that effectively clips Watson’s wings.
One senior party source told HuffPost UK that the move would look particularly embarrassing given how much Labour had criticised the Tories for allowing Boris Johnson to be chosen as PM by only Conservative Party members.
“We’ve been saying it’s wrong for 160,000 Tory members to pick our prime minister. But apparently it’s OK for thirty-odd people on the Politburo to take over if our leader is suddenly no longer in post,” they said.
Those behind the plan have stressed that the ‘acting leader’ would only be in post until a full leadership election and that the changes simply enshrine stronger safeguards to the NEC as the ruling body of the party.
But when revised ‘acting leader’ powers were first mooted last year, former deputy leader Margaret Beckett - who had to step in as acting leader after John Smith’s death in 1994 - savaged the proposal privately.
Beckett, who is also a member of the NEC, called it one of the most “ridiculous” she had ever heard.
Supporters of the changes however stress that they are aimed to ensuring the party’s membership and unions have a greater say through the NEC in the event of any sudden vacancy.
The new rule states:
Proposed New Chapter 2 Clause II.2.F:
F. Where an acting leader takes office under 2.E above, the following roles,
responsibilities and qualifications apply:
i. The Acting Leader’s powers only take effect when her/his appointment has been approved by the NEC.
ii. The Acting Leader may fill any vacancies that arise in the Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet, or other frontbench positions, but shall not otherwise alter their composition or dismiss members of the Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet or other frontbench positions.
iii. The Acting Leader shall invite the Cabinet (or Shadow Cabinet in opposition) to fill any vacancies that arise in the frontbench representation on the NEC under Chapter 1 Clause VIII.1.E above but shall not otherwise alter their composition or remove those representatives.
iv. Where any vacancies arise in the Campaign Co-ordinator or Campaign
Committee, the NEC and Acting Leader shall jointly fill those vacancies.
v. Where the Acting Leader proposes significant changes to Party policy, the
Acting Leader shall consult the NEC in advance, to the extent that is
The new rule would be added to the current rules which state:
E. Procedure in a vacancy
i. When the Party is in government and the Party leader is prime minister and the Party leader, for whatever reason, becomes permanently unavailable, the Cabinet shall, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as Party leader until a ballot under these rules can be carried out.
ii. When the Party is in government and the deputy leader becomes Party leader under i above of this rule, the Cabinet may, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as deputy leader until the next Party conference. The Cabinet may alternatively, in consultation with the NEC, leave the post vacant until the next Party conference.
iii. When the Party is in government and the deputy leader, for whatever reason, becomes permanently unavailable, the Cabinet may, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as deputy leader until the next Party conference. The Cabinet may alternatively, in consultation with the NEC, leave the post vacant until the next Party conference.
iv. When the Party is in opposition and the Party leader, for whatever reason, becomes permanently unavailable, the deputy leader shall automatically become Party leader on a pro-tem basis. The NEC shall decide whether to hold an immediate ballot as provided under E above or to elect a new leader at the next annual session of Party conference.