I dug out the modest proposal title partially because I wanted to declare this article as being officially semi-satirical, but mostly because it’s advocating a form of cannibalism. Politics is a vicious business at the best of times but there’s always room for a little more ruthlessness. So, this is a thought-experiment in some organised political brutality.
The Peter Principle, as originally laid out by Dr Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, is the idea that people are always promoted one level beyond their ability. As long as they are competent in their jobs they get promoted, until the job they are promoted into requires skills they don’t have. A great salesperson may not have the skills to be a great sales team manager for example. If we put this into a political context, a great local councillor may not make a great MP and a great local MP may not make a great leader.
The solutions to this are generally some version of not keeping a job just because you have it. After a sometimes fired altogether. It’s a solution that shares principles with the USA’s automatic primary system where everyone, up to an including sitting Presidents has to run again to win their party’s nomination for the next election (since 1900 no sitting President has ever lost, but both Truman and LBJ both pulled out of their respective races when trouble loomed) . You can also see it in the mandatory re-selections that were part of the Labour party before 1993, and would return if Momentum or Rebecca Long-Bailey have their way.
So, could you do the same for the leadership?
Mandatory re-selection at election time would probably be too disruptive, the lead in time for British elections is too short to allow something similar to the US Presidential Primaries that are going on at the moment. But could you put in say a maximum term of 3 years to the leadership, with a leadership contest taking place over the final months of that term and automatic re-selections after general elections. Short enough that it is unlikely to regularly clash with elections, long enough for a leader to show their credentials for the job.
It could confine factional infighting by providing a set outlet for it, Jeremy Corbyn’s premiership spent a lot of time being dogged by questions of when a challenge would come and what form it would take. If the only possible change is through revolution, then all dissent is funneled towards revolution. If it doesn’t have sufficient outlet there, then it leaks out through the seams. A mid-term election contest would provide a limiting and containing focus for dissent to be expressed. It would give the chance to remove an unsuitable leader and provide either a launching pad for a new leader, or a re-invigorating affirmation of support for a continuing leader.
Successful American primary candidates ride that momentum into their election campaign, both from the publicity but also the appearance of being ‘a winner’.
The logistics would undoubtedly be difficult, possibly insurmountable. But if the structures of the Labour party are being re-examined, and the warring factions seem unlikely to be declaring peace anytime soon maybe it should be considered.
Tomas Forsey is a longstanding PBer who posts on PB as Corporeal and tweets as PBcorporeal