[amended to add ‘Tolkein’ 27 Nov 2015]
“One Vote to rule them all, One Vote to find them,
One Vote to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”?
(with apologies to JRR Tolkein)
According to this Thursday’s edition of The Times (17/9/15), Jeremy Corby has “warned his shadow cabinet to recognise his mandate amid growing divisions over welfare, economic policy, Britain’s nuclear deterrent and Europe”.
This got me thinking about the whole issue of “mandates”. Mr Corbyn has been in Parliament for 32 years and served under 8 Labour leaders*, six of whom were elected with a clear mandate of their own – all of which Mr Corbyn cheerfully ignored whenever it suited him. He rebelled against previous leaders more than 500 times – despite their mandates.
Rather more importantly, none of these leaders was an elected autocrat able to impose the will without let or hindrance on the Labour Party. Some tried and in recent years frequently succeeded but none of them always got their own way all the time, as their memoirs often attest. This is for obvious reasons.
First, there is more than one source of a mandate for leadership in the Labour party. The Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, has his own mandate through direct election. Members of the party national executive have a mandate through their own election processes. MPs have a mandate, first from their local constituency labour parties and then from the electorate (and remember MPs have to represent all their constituents, even those who didn’t vote for them).
Second, the Labour party still has a series of decision-making bodies – the Shadow Cabinet, the NEC, the PLP, etc, in which all these groups exercise their own mandates in shaping Labour policy, or at least trying to. The shadow, or actual, Cabinet and Ministers have frequently frustrated their leaders.
Whilst it is true that recent years many of these bodies may have been sidelined by Labour leaders it is exactly such behaviour Corbyn claims to despise. He proclaims a “new style” of politics, more participative and inclusive.
Many of the 90% of so of Labour MPs who didn’t back Corbyn are arguing that existing policies stand until they are changed. They have a point. It is difficult for the Corbynistas to argue the Leadership election was in effect a referendum on a complete change in Party policy without ditching their claims to a new, democratic, open style of leadership?
Yet Corbyn’s appeal to his mandate sounds suspiciously like defaulting to “the leader knows best”. Who will win this contest of mandates remains to be seen – but Labour could be in for months of policy confusion and internal wrangling. To say its going to be messy is probably an understatement.
(*Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Margaret Beckett [Acting], Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman [Acting])