The battle for the Labour Party has taken a decisive turn with confirmation that Owen Smith will challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. Smith, a former shadow Work & Pensions spokesman, secured 90 nominations from Labour MPs and MEPs—far more than the 51 he needed to get on the ballot—and more than Angela Eagle, who was also standing. Despite reportedly securing 72 nominations, Eagle has stepped aside to allow Smith a clear run at Corbyn. Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) had already controversially decided that Corbyn would not require nominations to be on the leadership ballot, as the rules were unclear as to whether incumbents needed renominating during a challenge.
Labour’s leadership selection system was created during Ed Miliband’s leadership and is a variation of one-member-one-vote. Individual party members are permitted to vote, as are those who have signed up as either affiliated supporters—members of Labour-affiliated trade unions who have enrolled to vote—and registered supporters, who can vote on payment of a fee. Affiliated and registered supporters must also sign their agreement to Labour’s values.
The system’s first use in 2015 was accompanied by controversy. New members surged into the party, mainly with the intention of voting for Corbyn. The party’s membership doubled between the general election in May and the end of the year. Meanwhile, registered supporters had to pay only £3 to vote and 105,000 did so, 84 per cent of those voting for Corbyn. Many have since signed up as full members. These new members and supporters leaned heavily to the left and there were complaints about entryism and “flashmob” democracy. A vetting process weeded out some trouble-makers and members of far-left groups, but not all or probably even most.