So here we go again… YALL: Yet Another Leadership election. Some years, it seems that they’re a bit like buses, clustering together with long pauses, and then several occur in short order. I’ve voted in every leadership election we’ve had, with varying degrees of involvement, from just voting, discussing on the NEC and as Regional Organiser, through to running Lisa Duffy’s website last year. This gives me, I hope, some experience and some insights worth sharing.
First and foremost, whoever the new leader is will need to live. This sounds obvious, but since we have no money to pay a salary, they will already need to possess money or be in a position to raise it. This used to be a requirement for parliamentary MPs, too. I read once that when Ramsay Macdonald became Labour’s first PM, he had to beg and borrow furniture to put in No. 10.
Last year, it was made clear to Lisa Duffy that, if elected, she would need to raise significant funds in a short time if she was to have any sort of salary – and she fully understood that. The new incumbent will be doing a lot of travelling, too, and there is no expenses budget, either. Lastly, depending on the candidate, they may be unlucky enough to need full-time security guards, as Nigel did in his last few years. None of this is cheap, and the idea that some penniless but idealistic member, with no track record of serious fundraising and networking would end up as leader is, frankly, batshit-crazy.
Hence the need for deposits and signatures. It is possible to obtain help with the signatures – one eminent follower of this site once held a “Chickenpox Party” so Winston McKenzie could get the necessary signatures: he was so new to the party then that he was still listed as leader of his previous (own) outfit! Whether such get-togethers are a good idea or not, at least if they happen, it shows the organisers – who must have some influence – have faith in the candidate.
It has been written elsewhere that the Labour Party doesn’t require deposits. True – but they DO require the support of at least 20% of MPs (would 20% of MEPs or 99 signatures countrywide be fairer?), and remember: all their shortlisted candidates will not only have a salary but also expect a significant increase as Leader of the Opposition once elected. So is it fair to compare UKIP’s leadership rules with Labour? Manifestly not.
Leadership elections are horrendously expensive. The Diane James one, where we held hustings all over the country, cost well over £12,000 – I checked with the Party Secretary when I wrote this article that my recollection was right – and, since it was Diane who resigned in short order, (I won’t break the NEC confessional with further thoughts on that, however tempting), I myself would support a rule requiring candidates who resign in less than, say, 6 months without good reason to have to make a contribution towards costs.
The leader has two jobs. In the first instance, he or she is the public face of the party, and as such will be expected to be on TV, the stump, or propping up a bar a lot of the time. But: they are also a voting member of the NEC and on the board of directors, with consequent legal and financial obligations/risks. I have known leaders in the past concentrate on the former, and keep the latter to a minimum. This will not be a wise course for the new leader to chart. Hopefully the current NEC will prove adept at ensuring they turn up, meaningfully engage in management discussions, and don’t spout lines like “Adam proofed these rule changes, and he’s clever so just trust him and vote them through”, one minute into the agenda item, as happened once on my watch.
A leader needs a good team, and it is perfectly understandable to me that when a leader leaves office, his appointments lapse too – e.g. Peter Whittle and Suzanne Evans as deputies – although given her health (get well soon) I suspect she would have stood down anyway.
EGMs are deliberately tricky to organise, for good reason. I was present at the only one we ever had in the past, and it was so stressful and heated that a member died of a heart attack. EGMs can’t actually do much by way of changing the constitution (on the spot), anyway, so, with the likelihood of another General Election by the autumn, we would be mad to spend time squabbling over internal procedures just now.
We need to accept that the winner will either be a “name”, or rich, or better still both, hopefully have humility when dealing with difficult factions (UKIP has been accurately described as 8000 egos in a 3000 strong party in its early days …) and then concentrate on getting candidates in place, and – novel idea alert – let them get on with it, and see what they present in autumn at Conference!