The Labour Party faced a very difficult decision yesterday in interpreting its own rules as to whether Corbyn did or did not need to collect sufficient nominations from MPs and MEPs in order to be a candidate in the forthcoming leadership election. The issue may yet end up in court for a final determination as to the ‘correct’ interpretation of a rather vague piece of wording.
I’m not without some experience in the area of rules and regulations for party governance – during my period as chair of Plaid Cymru, interpreting the rules went with the job. There were always those who felt that there were too many rules or that the rules were over-complex, but one thing that I learnt over the years was this: as long as members of an organisation behave in a comradely fashion, respecting the values and ethos of the organisation, you basically don’t need many rules at all.
Rules only become essential when one or more members decide to seek advantage, whether personal or for a faction, by working in ways which don’t respect those values and ethos. When that happens, you not only need rules, you need as much certainty as possible, and the rules need to cope with every possible eventuality, because the unscrupulous will not hesitate to take advantage of any possible loophole. But the rules need to be laid down in advance, and it’s nigh on impossible to cover every possible circumstance; rules end up with an often implicit assumption that people will ‘play the game’ in the spirit of being part of a team.From that perspective, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Labour’s officials and the position in which they find themselves (even if watching the party self-destruct isn’t an entirely unpleasant experience!). I’d guess that those involved in writing this particular part of the rule book simply never imagined that a leader could be elected who didn’t have the support of the MPs from the outset, nor that MPs would then seek to use the rules to overturn a democratic and popular decision made by the party as a whole, let alone start planning said coup before the members had even elected the leader in question.