Let Labour members choose their MP candidates

If we want a radical socialist government, it starts with democratising the party from the bottom up. Dan Gerke argues in favour of mandatory reselection.

July 3, 2018
5 min read

With the election of 3  Momentum backed candidates to the NEC and Corbyn’s command over the Labour Party increasing, the debate on mandatory re-selection – a policy that gives Labour members the right to directly vote on who their candidate should be for general elections –  has resurfaced. While the right see it as an attack on MPs by a membership whose views are unrepresentative of broader public opinion, members and long time supporters of the policy argue it is crucial to democratising the party.

Here are four reasons why Labour should institute mandatory re-selection:

Getting Socialists into Parliament

If the Labour left is going to capitalise on this historic opportunity to build a new socialist Britain, we need as many socialists in parliament as possible.

In the past, radical backbenchers had incentive to support cautious liberal policy in lieu of deeper structural change in the name of social and economic reform. Moderate backbenchers however have no such incentive when it comes to radical policies that may challenge their beliefs or fundamentally endanger the social order they endorse.

Without the support of a majority of Labour MPs, even a moderate social democratic programme along the lines the Scandinavian countries will be next to impossible to sustain in the long run. Mandatory reselection will allow members to rebalance the political makeup of the parliamentary party to support a left-wing agenda, as well as provide incentive for moderate MPs to support radical policies in parliament.

Passing Legislation

Passing radical legislation is paramount to a successful Corbyn led Labour government.

In the event of a hung parliament or a small majority, the Left’s ability to pass legislation and effect change may rely on our entire parliamentary party mobilising. As such, a lack of basic support for a socialist economic programme could be the death of the left’s electoral project.

The goal of our movement shouldn’t be one Labour government, but several capable of transforming society over a generation. For this to happen, we need a majority of MPs in the parliamentary party who are friendly to the scale of our legislative ambitions. Corbyn’s power to effect change lies with the party members. They need to be capable of pressuring MPs to vote for radical policies when required, and remove them if they are continually undermining a Labour governments ability to operate. Mandatory reselection will enable members to do just this.

Maintaining and diversifying a Left leadership

Prospective leadership candidates must receive written nominations from at least 26 MPs. Corbyn only got onto the ballot in 2015 because MPs nominated him out of a commitment to democratic pluralism; they will not make the same mistake twice.

Until the left has a majority on the Labour benches, we will be forced to select a single candidate every time, sacrificing breadth of debate and representation and risking schism with the supporters of snubbed candidates. Mandatory re-selection would give members the power to ensure the left is as diverse inside parliament as it is outside it, by exerting pressure on sitting MPs to support left candidates and electing more socialist MPs to parliament. With a wider range of choices, members would not just be presented with a choice between socialism and liberalism, but between multiple visions of what socialism represents.

Holding Labour to account

Radical governments across the world committed to transforming society have succumbed to the power of the capitalist class inside and outside of the state. Media smears, lobbying, investment strikes and capital flight are all effective weapons in the capitalist arsenal.

There is only one defence against such ruling class machinations: a motivated, committed and embedded mass membership, rooted in communities.  We don’t have economic power in the same way the capitalist class does; what we have is people power, in communities and trade unions but also in the state, if Labour can maintain an unbreakable connection between its parliamentary representatives and the grassroots.

Such a connection is difficult to maintain but far from impossible. Mandatory re-selection offers us a chance to reform the very meaning of parliamentary democracy by democratising the process through which MPs are selected in the first place. Participatory democracy should be Labour’s goal in government. Labour MPs should sacrifice some of the autonomy they currently have in favour of increasing members control over the party.

Labour members must be able to hold MPs to account, providing a counterweight to the pressure capital will inevitably put on them. This is the only way to protect a socialist government from the kinds of economic sabotage the few are always willing to inflict when the many finally stand up and say ‘enough’.