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Electing the party leader – recent events in Australia and the UK


Australia

Australian Greens

On the morning of 6 May 2015 leader of the Australian Greens (AG), Senator Christine Milne, announced her resignation as leader of the party. The new leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, was elected at a party room meeting the same morning. The media portrayed this change in leadership as ‘bloodless’ but also reported that it ‘left some in the party room muttering that it was a stitch-up and an ambush’. Senator Lee Rhiannon is reported to have stated that ‘I have always been, and remain, a strong advocate for membership involvement in party leadership. Members should have a vote’.

Under the current AG rules, only members of the federal parliamentary party elect the party leader. In an address to the National Press Club on 7 May, Senator Milne said that the issue had been considered as part of a constitutional review, but the 2014 Greens National Conference had ‘determined that the process we have be the process into the future’. Milne referred to the fate of the now deregistered Australian Democrats Party and warned that ‘[y]ou only have to look back at the history of the Democrats to see how the direct election of leaders can go awry’. The AG website notes that the party followed the current party room rules.

United Kingdom

As a result of the poor performance of their parties in the 2015 UK election held on 7 May, the leaders of the Labour party (Ed Miliband) and Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg) announced their resignations. The leader of the UK Independence party (UKIP), Nigel Farage also announced his resignation but this was not accepted by the party (see below). The method used to elect the new Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders will involve party members using the principle of One Member One Vote (OMOV). 

Labour

In July 2013 Ed Miliband established a review of the Labour Party. The report, The Collins review into Labour Party reform , was released in February 2014. Some of the key recommendations were:

  • The Electoral College for leadership elections should be abolished and replaced in party rules by a new system based on the principle of OMOV.
  • The eligible electorate [for leadership elections] should be composed of members, affiliated supporters [members of affiliated organisations who have registered with the party] and registered supporters [those who are not members or members of an affiliated organisation].
  • Responsibility for nominating and shortlisting leadership candidates shall remain with the House of Commons members of the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party].
  • Nominations for the post of leader or deputy leader of the party must, in all circumstances, be supported by 15 per cent [formerly 12.5 per cent] of the Commons members of the PLP to be valid.
  • Selection timetables should be as short as possible.

At a special Labour Conference, held in March 2014, Miliband received overwhelming support for his plan to replace the electoral college system and its weighted votes, with OMOV. A Labour Party media release noted that under the new system ‘[n]o one’s vote is worth more than anyone else’. The new system will be used for the first time this year to elect the new Labour leader and deputy leader.

In the days after the election the media reported concerns of some Labour figures about the length of the leadership election period. The Independent reported on 11 May 2015 that ‘Labour chiefs want the new leader to be in place by August to minimise the time spent on a potentially damaging contest – and no later than the party’s conference in September’.

Former Labour home secretary, Alan Johnson, writing in the Guardian said, ‘We need to move on quickly... It should not be as long and protracted a leadership campaign as in 2010 [four months]’.

On 13 May, Labour’s national executive committee announced the timetable for a four-month leadership election campaign. The formal election period opened on Friday 15 May with the successful candidate to be announced at a special conference on Saturday 12 September.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have used OMOV since the formation of the party in 1988. Thomas Quinn, author of Electing and ejecting party leaders in Britain, (2012) has noted that ‘[t]he Liberal Democrats have long prided themselves as a grassroots party committed to participatory democracy’. Nick Clegg was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2007 following a two-month campaign. The Party has released the timetable for a two-month campaign, with nominations opening on 13 May and the new leader announced on 16 July. The Liberal Democrat party Constitution states: ‘10.1 The Leader of the Party shall be elected by the members of the Party …’.

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, was not successful in winning the seat (South Thanet) he contested at the 2015 election. Shortly after the result was declared Farage announced his decision to resign as party leader.  His resignation was rejected by the UKIP National Executive Council (NEC) members who produced overwhelming evidence that the UKIP membership did not want Farage to go. The UKIP constitution states: ‘Election for the post of Party Leader shall be by way of a postal ballot of all paid up members of the Party “in good standing”’.

Selection of federal party leaders in Australia and the UK

Australia 

Party

Parliamentary party (PP)

Party members

Weighting of votes

Length of campaign and (date of last leadership election)

Australian Greens

X

 

 

Not applicable

Australian Labor Party

X

X

(from 2013)

Yes

( 50% PP and members)

1 mth (2013)

Liberal

X

 

 

Not applicable

Nationals

X

 

 

Not applicable

UK 

Party

Parliamentary party

Party members

Weighting of votes

Length of campaign and (date of last leadership election)

Conservative

X

(PP also conducts elimination ballots to produce 2 candidates for OMOV election)

X

(from 1998)

No

2 mths (2005)

Greens

(England and Wales)

X

 

(The Constitution allows for the election of a leader and deputy or two co-leaders, one from each gender)

X

No

First election under current rules in 2008, elections held every two years

Labour

X

(nominations to be supported by 15% of members of PP)

X

No

4 mths (2010 under previous rules;  2015 under new rules)

Liberal Democrats

X

X

No

2 mths (2007 & 2015)

Scottish National Party

X

(Candidates need to be nominated by at least 100 members from at least 20 branches)

X

No

First election under current rules 2004

UKIP

X

X

No

(2010)

Source for UK table: T Quinn, Electing and ejecting party leaders in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2012.

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