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UK Political Parties Leadership Elections Essays

Compare and contrast the methods used by the three main parties to elect their leaders. In the organisation of the Conservative Party, constituency associations dominate the election of party leaders and the selection of local candidates while the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) leads financing, organisation of elections and drafting of policy. The leader of the parliamentary party forms policy in consultation with his cabinet and administration. This decentralised structure is unusual.
The Labour Party is a membership organisation consisting of Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and the Co-operative Party, with which it has an electoral agreement. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions take part in the Parliamentary Labour Party and European Parliamentary Labour Party. The party’s decision-making bodies on a national level formally include the National Executive Committee, Labour Party Conference and National Policy Forum —although in practice the Parliamentary leadership has the final say on policy.
The 2008 Labour Party Conference was the first at which affiliated trade unions and Constituency Labour Parties did not have the right to submit motions on contemporary issues that would previously have been debated. Labour Party conferences now include more “keynote” addresses, guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions, while specific discussion of policy now takes place in the National Policy Forum. Choosing and removing party leaders is a significant indicator of internal party democracy is the extent to which regular members are given an input into the process by which the party leader is chosen.
The current system for electing Conservative leaders was introduced in 1998 under William Hague, the Conservative Party leader at that time. Hague’s successor, Iain Duncan Smith, became the first Conservative Party leader to be elected under the new system in 2001. Under the rules established by Hague, prospective candidates must be sitting Conservative MPs who take the party whip. They must also be nominated and seconded by fellow Conservative MPs.
Once nominations close, a series of ballots is held amongst Conservative MPs, with the lowest-placed candidate in each ballot being eliminated, until only two candidates remain. Individual party members are then invited to choose between these two candidates in a run-off election by postal ballot. The problem with the current system is that those in the parliamentary party can manipulate the final choice presented to rank-and-file members by voting tactically in the ballots of MPs.
In 2001, for example, those on the right of the party deliberately switched their votes in the final ballots of MPs, with the effect of eliminating the early favourite Michael Portillo and presenting rank-and-file members with a choice between their chosen candidate, the Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith, and the moderate Kenneth Clarke, a candidate whom Duncan Smith’s supporters knew would not be able to defeat ‘their man’ in the ballot of individual party members.
In the Labour Party, the leader was once chosen by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) alone, but since the 1980s leadership elections have operated under an Electoral College system. In its present incarnation this Electoral College is divided into three distinct sections, with one-third of the votes held by the PLP and the party’s MEPs, one third in the hands of affiliated organisations such as Trade Unions, and the final third being cast by ordinary party members. Since 1993 such contests have operated on a one member, one vote basis.
Those seeking to run for the post of leader must be nominated by at least 12. 5% of the party’s MPs where there is a vacancy and 20% of MPs where they seek to challenge the incumbent. If no candidate secures more than half of the votes cast on the first ballot, the rules state that further ballots must be held on an elimination basis until a winner emerges. Although this system is far more democratic than what went before it, rank-and-file members still have a fairly limited influence relative to the MPs and the affiliated organisations.
Indeed, individual party members only have a say in the event that more than one candidate is able to secure the support necessary to validate their nomination. When Blair stood down as party leader in 2007, Gordon Brown was elected unopposed. In addition, it is now far harder than it once was to remove a Labour Party leader while the party is in government. This is because such a challenge can only proceed following a majority vote at the annual party conference. The system by which the Lib Dems elect their leader is generally regarded as being the most democratic of the three main UK parties.
Those wishing to stand must have the support of at least 10% of the parliamentary party and be nominated by no fewer than 200 members from at least 20 local parties. The election itself then operates on an OMOV basis under a preferential, single transferable vote (STV) system – with losing candidates being eliminated and their votes transferred until one candidate commands the support of more than 50% of those members casting the ballot. Traditionally, those seeking to represent the Conservative Party in parliamentary elections were subject to a tortuous and largely closed process.
Frist, the prospective candidates had to get their names on an approved list of candidates by attending a formal interview before a panel. Secondly, they would have to apply to a constituency Conservative Association and succeed in getting their name on a shortlist. Thirdly, they would need to garner the support of those party activists a constituency general meeting. Even those candidates who were successful in securing the nomination of their constituency association by such means could still find their nominations vetoed by the national party’s Ethics and Integrity Committee, established in the 1990s by the then party leader William Hague.
However, under the leadership of David Cameron the party looked to democratise the process of candidate selection further, first by introducing the so-called A-Lists and later by trailing hustings and primaries. Those wishing to become prospective parliamentary candidates for the Labour Party must first get their names on to the National Executive Committee’s approved list. This list is forwarded to Constituency Labour Parties, which draw up a shortlist from those approved candidates who have applied.
Constituency party members then select their preferred candidate under one member, one vote. The NEC can improve its own choice of candidate, even where the CLP has already, made a selection. The choice of members has also been limited by the introduction of women-only shortlists in many of Labours seats. Because Lib Dems operate under a federal structure, those wishing to become prospective parliamentary candidates for the party must first apply to their national party (England, Scotland or Wales).
Those who pass this vetting procedure and become approved candidates can then apply to individual constituencies for selection. Those candidates short–listed by the constituency party go forward to a ballot of all party members in the constituency in question. Although the constituency-level party in all three major parties is normally allowed to have the final say in selecting parliamentary candidates from the nationally approved lists, the national parties do retain the ultimate power to deselect and impose candidates where they see fit.
In 1986, for example, the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock deselected the MPs Dave Nellist and Terry Fields for being part of a banned Militant Tendency. The Labour Party has also imposed candidates on constituencies from time to time; for example, parachuting the former Conservative MP Shaun Woodward in as the Labour candidate for the safe seat of St. Helens South ahead of the general election. More recently, the scandal over MPs’ expenses saw both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party moving to bar certain MPs from defending their seats at the 2010 general election.
During his brief time as leader of the Labour Party, between 1992–94, John Smith abolished the trade union block vote at Labour Party conferences, and replaced it with a system of one member one vote. All Labour Party members are also entitled to vote for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the party as part of an electoral college which includes Members of Parliament (MPs), Members of the European Parliament and trade unions. In January 1998, the OMOV principle was adopted as part of the series of reforms of the Conservative Party.
The MPs would choose two candidates to go to a vote by all Conservative members. The system was first used by the Conservatives in the 2001 leadership election to replace William Hague. A run off by various candidates led to Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke being put forward to a vote of all Conservative members, with the final result announced on September 12, 2001. The eligible voters were 328,000 members of the Conservative Party of which 79% of the voters exercised their rights on said date.
Duncan Smith became the new Leader of the Conservative Party with 61% of the votes (155,933 votes). Kenneth Clarke obtained 39% of the votes (100,544 votes). In the 2003 leadership election no ballot took place, since Michael Howard was unopposed in standing to replace Duncan Smith – but the two candidate run off was employed again two years later. On December 6, 2005, it was announced that David Cameron had been chosen by the Conservative members to be the new leader over David Davis. Cameron had 134,446 votes compared to Davis’ 64,398 votes, making a total number of 198,844 votes.

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