EARLIER this year, the air was thick with phrases about "the danger of a damaging leadership contest". I found it puzzling that the party leadership was against holding an election. After all, the Labour Party tries to be a democratic party, and the reselection of MP's, and the election of the leadership on a wider franchise, is part of this.
While the constitutional reforms on reselection and the election of the leadership were limited, they were nevertheless worth supporting. I do not believe that the patent unfairness of the current compromise could withstand public scrutiny, and each time the machinery is used, the demand for a one-person one vote procedure will grow.
The farce inherent in the electoral college will be played up to the full by the media, and will result in renewed demands for change. This should count as one of the bonuses of the leadership contest.
At the present time, candidates have to gain the backing of at least five per cent of MPs. MPs have 30 per cent of the college vote, as do constituency parties, while the trade union section gain 40 per cent of the votes.
The current system is inherently unstable, and will be so until we have a single system of MPs nominating the leadership candidates, together with the whole of the Labour Party membership voting on the slate of candidates.
Against this gain of another lurch towards a fuller democratic system, the leadership stresses how the contest will deflect Labour from its main task. What is this task? clearly, it is about defeating the Tories. How best can Labour set about achieving this objective?
The leadership's actions suggest that a two-pronged strategy is necessary. The Government's measures must be exposed for what they are.
Labour must bring its policies up-to-date, so that it can appeal to the haves, as well as the have-nots.
Both activities are important, but they will not alone win the next election for the labour Party. Oppositions do not usually win elections unaided; governments must also lose them. Mrs Thatcher did not win in 1979; the Labour and the TUC threw victor) her way.
Opposition leaders who have never been Prime Minister may have the additional disadvantage of not looking as though they are a Prime Minister in waiting. The current Prime Minister was certainly in this category before 1979. Clement Attlee would never have been thought of as Prime Ministerial material, butfor the fact that he acted as Churchill's deputy during the war-time Coalition Government.
Neil Kinnock faces a similar test now. While the leadership has expelled some of the Liverpool Militants, its continual campaign against the infiltrators is being conducted in what could best be described as a low key style. What is needed is a dramatic campaign which the electorate will see as Neil Kinnock showing the necessary skills in sorting out the Labour Party which they expect from a Prime Minister.
The leadership contest should therefore also be about seeking a mandate for the party. A big win for the present leadership will result in proposals to conference for a system of one person, one vote election in all Labour Party contests. Power will also be sought for putting the NEC in charge once a parliamentary by-election is in the offing. This should prevent any covert Trotskyite candidate slipping through the net, and undoing all the good work the present contest could do for the party.
Further, those local parties which have been over-run by the Trots (and Socialist Organiser is as big a threat as Militant in this respect) or dominated by them, should be closed down by the NEC. The prescribed list forbidding membership to those groups whose primary loyalty is not to the Labour Party should be re-introduced.