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Electing the party leader - recent events in Australia and the UK

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Electing the party leader - recent events in Australia and the UK

Posted 22/05/2015 by Deirdre McKeown


Australian Greens

On the morning of 6 May 2015 leader of the Australian Greens (AG), Senator Christine Milne,announced her

resignation as leader of the party. The new leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, was elected at a party room

meeting the same morning. The media portrayed this change in leadership as ‘bloodless’ but also reported

that it ‘left some in the party room muttering that it was a stitch-up and an ambush’. Senator Lee Rhiannon

is reported to have stated that ‘I have always been, and remain, a strong advocate for membership

involvement in party leadership. Members should have a vote’.

Under the current AG rules, only members of the federal parliamentary party elect the party leader. In an

address to the National Press Club on 7 May, Senator Milne said that the issue had been considered as part

of a constitutional review, but the 2014 Greens National Conference had ‘determined that the process we

have be the process into the future’. Milne referred to the fate of the now deregistered Australian

Democrats Party and warned that ‘[y]ou only have to look back at the history of the Democrats to see how

the direct election of leaders can go awry’. The AG website notes that the party followed the current party

room rules.

United Kingdom

As a result of the poor performance of their parties in the 2015 UK election held on 7 May, the leaders of

the Labour party (Ed Miliband) and Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg) announced their resignations. The

leader of the UK Independence party (UKIP), Nigel Farage also announced his resignation but this was not

accepted by the party (see below). The method used to elect the new Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders

will involve party members using the principle of One Member One Vote (OMOV).


In July 2013 Ed Miliband established a review of the Labour Party. The report, The Collins review into

Labour Party reform , was released in February 2014. Some of the key recommendations were:

 The Electoral College for leadership elections should be abolished and replaced in party rules by a new

system based on the principle of OMOV.

 The eligible electorate [for leadership elections] should be composed of members, affiliated supporters

[members of affiliated organisations who have registered with the party] and registered supporters

[those who are not members or members of an affiliated organisation].

 Responsibility for nominating and shortlisting leadership candidates shall remain with the House of

Commons members of the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party].

 Nominations for the post of leader or deputy leader of the party must, in all circumstances, be

supported by 15 per cent [formerly 12.5 per cent] of the Commons members of the PLP to be valid.

 Selection timetables should be as short as possible.

At a special Labour Conference, held in March 2014, Miliband received overwhelming support for his plan

to replace the electoral college system and its weighted votes, with OMOV. A Labour Party media

release noted that under the new system ‘[n]o one’s vote is worth more than anyone else’. The new system

will be used for the first time this year to elect the new Labour leader and deputy leader.

In the days after the election the media reported concerns of some Labour figures about the length of the

leadership election period. The Independent reported on 11 May 2015 that ‘Labour chiefs want the new

leader to be in place by August to minimise the time spent on a potentially damaging contest - and no

later than the party’s conference in September’.

Former Labour home secretary, Alan Johnson, writing in the Guardian said, ‘We need to move on quickly...

It should not be as long and protracted a leadership campaign as in 2010 [four months]’.

On 13 May, Labour’s national executive committee announced the timetable for a four-month leadership

election campaign. The formal election period opened on Friday 15 May with the successful candidate to be

announced at a special conference on Saturday 12 September.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have used OMOV since the formation of the party in 1988. Thomas Quinn, author

of Electing and ejecting party leaders in Britain, (2012) has noted that ‘[t]he Liberal Democrats have long

prided themselves as a grassroots party committed to participatory democracy’. Nick Clegg was elected

leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2007 following a two-month campaign. The Party hasreleased the

timetable for a two-month campaign, with nominations opening on 13 May and the new leader announced

on 16 July. The Liberal Democrat party Constitution states: ‘10.1 The Leader of the Party shall be elected by

the members of the Party …’.

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, was not successful in winning the seat (South Thanet) he contested at the

2015 election. Shortly after the result was declared Farage announced his decision to resign as party

leader. His resignation was rejected by the UKIP National Executive Council (NEC) members who produced

overwhelming evidence that the UKIP membership did not want Farage to go. The UKIPconstitution states:

‘Election for the post of Party Leader shall be by way of a postal ballot of all paid up members of the Party

“in good standing”’.

Selection of federal party leaders in Australia and the UK


Party Parliamentary

party (PP)



Weighting of


Length of campaign and (date of

last leadership election)



X Not applicable


Labor Party


(from 2013)


( 50% PP and


1 mth (2013)

Liberal X Not applicable

Nationals X Not applicable


Party Parliamentary party Party



of votes

Length of campaign and

(date of last leadership


Conservative X

(PP also conducts elimination

ballots to produce 2 candidates

for OMOV election)




No 2 mths (2005)


(England and



(The Constitution allows for the

election of a leader and deputy or

two co-leaders, one from each


X No First election under

current rules in 2008,

elections held every two


Labour X

(nominations to be supported by

15% of members of PP)

X No 4 mths (2010 under

previous rules; 2015

under new rules)



X X No 2 mths (2007 & 2015)


National Party


(Candidates need to be

nominated by at least 100

members from at least 20


X No First election under

current rules 2004

UKIP X X No (2010)

Source for UK table: T Quinn, Electing and ejecting party leaders in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2012.