Watering down the power of MPs has created big problems.
Looking at the current gulf between the Parliamentary Labour Party and its leader it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that party members had no say whatsoever in leadership elections until after the 1983 general election when the party, under Michael Foot, went down to its biggest defeat. He had been chosen by MPs alone and in the first MP ballot in 1980 chalked up just 31.3% of the vote against Denis Healey’s 42.3%.
By the time of Kinnock’s election three years later a new structure was in place which left the choice in the hands of an electoral college made up of MPs, the unions and the members at large. Kinnock won all three sections convincingly but went on to lead his party to defeat in 1987 and 1992. John Smith won the leadership selection that followed the latter defeat but died two years later. Tony Blair won decisively in 1994 and remains the only leader elected with membership involvement who has actually won general elections.
Since then the system has been refined with the members getting an increasing say in who gets the top job. Only problem is that the PLP, in whose hands the decision was until 1983, now only has the power of nomination. An MPs votes count the same as a member or a three quidder. This is the heart of the party’s current problem.
In fact Corbyn only had the backing of 6.5% of the PLP which is the very opposite of a mandate.
Where it goes from here will, apart from the EURef, be one of the big stories of 2016.
Under the rules of every previous leadership election the lack of backing from MPs would have stopped Corbyn’s September victory.