The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) have been presented with options for reform of the shadow cabinet. Letters to MPs from Margaret Beckett and Tony Lloyd pave the way for ballots on 8 September for the size, composition and gender profile of the shadow cabinet and between 30 September and 7 October for its membership.
The timetable is underpinned by the imperative to have an opposition team in place for the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October. The options for MPs outlined in the letter from Beckett are:
Selection of the shadow cabinet: wholly appointed by the leader; wholly elected by Commons members of the PLP; wholly appointed by the party leader; 50/50 split between party leader appointments and elected by Commons members of the PLP; two thirds elected by Commons members of the PLP, one third appointed by the Leader.
Size of the shadow cabinet. In addition to the leader, deputy leader, PLP chair, leader and chief whip in the lords, the available options will be: 19 members (present number); 16 members; 12 members.
Gender profile. The percentage of places reserved for women: 50 percent; 40 percent; matching the whole PLP’s current profile of 31.5 percent; 30%, increasing to 50% by 2012.
Frequency of elections: every year; every 2 years; once a parliament.
The PLP will also be asked whether the Chief Whip should be appointed by the leader or elected by MPs.
While anoraks and other observers will savour the prospect of a mini-referendum to precede the election proper, the process has not been welcomed by some senior Labour MPs. Garry Gibbon quotes one former cabinet minister:
“Shadow Cabinet elections? Why the hell didn’t we abolish them? We just forgot.”
This sets the scene for plenty of arm-twisting at Labour conference in Manchester.