Background to the contest
Labour’s General Election result was worst the party had experienced since 1935. With just 202 seats, Labour lost 60 seats from the 2017 General Election. Many of these seats that the Conservatives won from Labour were in the traditional Labour heartlands.
Many seats that voted Conservative in the 2019 election did so for the very first in generations, these included:
Rother Valley – A Labour seat since 1918.
Don Valley – A Labour seat since 1922.
Sedgefield – Tony Blair’s former seat, which had been held by Labour since 1935 (although it was abolished between 1974 and 1983).
It was immediately clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader was untenable and it was announced that a leadership contest would take place.
The Rules for nomination
To stand in the election candidates need to receive the support of at least 10% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (Labour MPs) and Parliamentary European Labour Party (Labour’s MEPs). In addition, they needed to be nominated by either:
5% of Constituency Labour Parties
Three Affiliate Organisations (like Trade Unions) whose total membership includes at least 5% of party membership.
Who are the contenders?
The candidates who have passed the nomination threshold and have announced their candidacy are:
Rebecca Long-Bailey – Long-Bailey is seen by Corbynites as the heir to Jeremy Corbyn. She served under Corybn as Shadow Business Secretary and stood in for Corbyn at Leadership Debates in the General Election. She has the support of senior Corbyn supporters like Diane Abbot and John McDonnell and the left-wing faction Momentum. She can rely on Momentum launching a huge push on social media for her candidacy.
Emily Thornberry – Thornberry has served as Shadow Foreign Secretary since 2016. She has been publicly loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, but has long been suspected on having private doubts over his leadership and his ability to deliver an electoral victory. Thornberry has focused on her ability to take on Boris Johnson when she shadowed him when he was Foreign Secretary and has presented herself as the voice of experience in the campaign.
Keir Starmer – Starmer is a Barrister by profession and was Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013. It was always envisaged that Starmer might run for the leadership one day. His biggest problem might be that he is largely responsible for the parties disastrous position on Brexit during the 2019 Election. He will have to work hard to convince Labour Leave Voters that he is the right man to lead the party.
Lisa Nandy – Nandy has been MP for Wigan since 2010. She has been very critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and believes the Labour Party has become to London-centric. Nandy had been tipped to run for the leadership in 2015, however, she had a young son and was not able to do this. Nandy is far more centrist than the party has moved under Jeremy Corbyn.
Jess Phillips – Phillips has become one of the Labour Party’s most recognisable backbench MPs. She is currently the MP for Birmingham Yardly and has been a passionate campaigner in his constituency. For example, she has strongly supported Parkfield Community Primary School in Birmingham which has been inundated with protests for introducing an LGBT+ program. Phillips has been extremely critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, particularly over the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
The Election Process
The election will take place on a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) basis. The voting system used will be the Alternative Vote, whereby voters can vote by preference. This means that the votes of the lowest ranked candidate (who is eliminated after each round) can be reassigned. Importantly, the Alternative Vote means that a candidate will only be declared when they have a majority of votes.
The electorate in the Labour Party Elections is made up of the following groups:
- Members of the Labour Party
- Members of Labour Affiliated Groups (e.g the Unite Trade Union)
- Registered Supporters of the Labour Party
Importantly, this is a major change from former Labour Leadership elections. Before 2015, and Electoral College chose the leader, with each college (group) given a third of the weight. The groups were:
- The Parliamentary Labour Party and European Parliamentary Labour Party
- Labour Party Members
- Affiliated Groups (Trade Unions)
This system was criticised for being somewhat undemocratic because it gave too much power to Trade Unions and the Parliamentary Party, who were much smaller in number than Labour Party Members.
However, one problem of the change was that it led to accusations that people were able to ‘buy a vote’. In the 2015 Leadership Election, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader, it cost just £3 to register as a support of the party and therefore vote. The Party was therefore flooded with left-wing supporters, keen to ensure a Jeremy Corbyn victory. At this election, it costs £25, rather than £3, to become a party supporter and be able to vote.
Voting in the election opens on 21st February and closes on the 2nd April. The winner will be elected on 4th April.
Who are the likely winners?
Keir Starmer comfortably secured the most nominations with 88 MP/MEP nominations, 2 affiliates and 10 constituency Labour Parties. However, the legacy of the 2015 campaign overhangs this election. That campaign, and the influx of members it bought, moved the Labour Party heavily to the left. The Labour Party currently has around 520k members, many of whom joined in the 2015 influx. Therefore, whilst Starmer is clearly the preferred candidate of parliamentarians, a recent poll by Survation places Rebecca Long-Bailey on 42% with party members, whilst Starmer is on 37%. The challenge for Starmer is how far left on the political spectrum he presents himself in the election.
It is hard to see beyond Starmer and Long-Bailey in the contest. However, in third place in current polls is Lisa Nandy. She has the advantage of not having been part of the Shadow Cabinet under Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign (she resigned in protest at Corybyn’s leadership in 2016). In addition, she is a northern MP (Wigan) who strongly opposed the ‘Second Referendum’ position of the Labour Party. Nandy consistently warned that this served to alienate Northern Labour voters who were key to the Leave victory in June 2016. Nandy is likely to be a strong runner in the election.
No party has overturned a majority of 80 in a single election. The process of trying to return the Labour Party is likely to be a two election process. However, the start of that process will be on April 4th, when the new Labour Leader begins to shape its direction.
In the last Parliament (2017-2019) only four private bills made it through Parliament and received Royal Assent. This compares to 63 public bills, which are usually introduced by the Government.
The Government dominates the legislative agenda and very little time is available for backbenchers to try to pass legislation. However, hope is offered through the the Backbench Ballot which takes place each year. Backbench MPs enter a ballot (lottery) and 20 Backbench MPs win the chance to earn priceless parliamentary time for a bill o their choice. Of these 20, the first seven drawn are pretty much guaranteed time to put forward their bill on Friday Mornings, which are usually reserved for backbench business.
This years draw took place on 9th January and resulted in the following MPs being drawn:
- Labour MP, Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale)
- Labour MP, Darren Jones (Bristol North West)
- Labour MP, Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North)
- Conservative MP, Laura Trott (Sevenoaks)
- Conservative MP, Chris Loder (West Dorset)
- Labour MP, Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree)
- Conservative MP, Philip Dunne (Ludlow)
- Conservative MP, Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)
- Conservative MP, Mr Mark Francois, (Rayleigh and Wickford)
- Conservative MP, Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge)
- Conservative MP, Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden)
- SNP MP, Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire)
- SNP MP, Peter Grant (Glenrothes)
- Labour MP, Alex Cunningham (Stockton North)
- Labour MP, Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham)
- Conservative MP, Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)
- Conservative MP, Bill Wiggin ( North Herefordshire)
- Labout MP, Kate Osamor (Edmonton)
- Conservative MP, Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness)
- SNP MP, Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North Wes
Whilst these MPs will have the chance to put forward their bills, it is still unlikely that they will become law. This is for a number of reasons:
Filibustering – A filibuster is a tactic that can be used to prevent a vote on a bill by continuing to talk so there is not time left for a vote. It is also commonly called ‘talking out’ a bill. The modern record for the length of a filibuster is held by Labour MP Andrew Dismore. In 2005 he held the floor for 3 hours and 17 minutes, although he did take interventions from other MPs during this time. A famous filibusterer is Jacob Rees-Mogg who is renowned for his wide use of the English language in his speeches. One example of Mogg filibustering can be seen below:
Other recentexamples of filibusters include:
In October 2016 Labour MP Julie Cooper was attempting to pass a bill to exempt carers from paying hospital car park charges – it was filibustered by Conservative MP Philip Davies.
In October 2017 a Labour bill to reduce the voting age to 16 was filibustered by numerous Conservatives. The MP proposing the bill, Jim McMahon, reacted angrily to the tactics used by the Conservatives:
Difficulty of Cloture Motions – Under parliamentary rules a filibuster can be stopped by a cloture motion. This is a motion to bring a debate to a close and requires a simple majority. However, there is a further hurdle to overcome – a cloture motion needs the support of over 100 MPs. On a normal parliamentary day, this might not be an issue. However, Private Members bills are normally consider on a Friday, when most MPs are absent from Parliament and can be found in their constituencies. This makes achieving a cloture motion is almost impossible.
With these challenges, the best hope a backbencher has to get his bill passed is to win the support of the government for their agenda. For example, in 2017 Labour MP Chris Bryant used his Private Members Ballot slot to make assault on emergency workers a particular criminal offence punishable by up to 12 months in prison (as opposed to six months on a non-emergency worker). This was something the government was quick to support, the bill even passed third reading without a division (vote), showing its popularity.
An even more famous example is the abolition of the Death Penalty. The Death Penalty was abolished in Britain by 1965. For such a significant piece of legislation it is perhaps surprising to think that it was a Private Members Bill. It was first introduced by Labour MP Sydney Silverman. A Free Vote (where whips do not direct their party members) and it passed the House of Commons by 200 to 98 before passing the House of Lords by 204 to 104. It was clear that the public mood had turned against the Death Penalty and MPs reflected this mood.
So, 20 MPs will be excitedly preparing Private Member Bills to make the most of their chance in the parliamentary limelight. Most will fail, however, with a bit of luck and some prominent people behind it, these MPs stand their best chance of making their legislative mark in the House of Commons.
On 3rd January 2020 a US Drone strike in Iraq killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The action taken by the US resulted in reprisals by Iran as on the 8th January two American Air Bases were targeted in missile strikes. So who was Qassam Solemani and was his killing by the United States legal?
Who was Qassem Soleimani?
Qassem Soleimani was Iran’s most prominent military figure. Soleimani was head of Quds Force within the Iranian Revolurinaey Guard. The Quds Force essentially formed the basis of the Special Forces of Iran.
In this role, Soleimani was responsible for coordinating the support of Iran for proxy groups. Using proxy war (for example supporting Assad in Syria and the Houthi movement in the Civil War in Yemen). The co-operation of Soleimani with groups like Hezbollah (who the US and U.K. designate as terrorist organisations) led to the allegation that he was aiding and abetting terrorism and needed to be addressed.
What happened in the Strike?
Soleimani was killer in a carefully planned drone attack. A drone is an unmanned aircraft that can be operated remotely.
The attack actually took place in Iraq, not Iran. The missiles were targeted at a convoy leaving Baghdad Airport where Soleimani had just returned from Lebanon. Four members of an Iraqi militia group called the PMF were also killed.
Has this happened before?
Drone strikes have become an increasingly common way of targeting individuals considered a threat. The fact that they are unmanned significantly reduces the risk to attacking troops. However, more broadly, the United States has carried out operations to unilaterally kill individuals on foreign soil. These are commonly called ‘extrajudical killing’, as they take place without a proceeding judicial process (as would happen if someone was given the death penalty. Most notably:
Osama Bin Laden – May 2011
Osama Bin Laden was the leader of Al-Qaeda who had orchestrated the September 11th attacks against the United States that resulted in deaths of 2,997 people. He managed to evade capture during the War in Afghanistan escaping through the Tora Bora cave system. The CIA conducted one of the longest manhunts in History, eventually tracing Bin Laden to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In this instance, President Obama opted against a drone strike and sent special forces in to kill Osama Bin Laden.
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi – October 2019
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was the leader of ISIS having previously been a senior figure in Al-Qaeda. In a similar operation to the one against Bin Laden, Al Baghdadi was killed by US Special Forces.
Was the killing of Soleimani Legal?
International Law is incredibly complex and much harder to define than domestic laws, which are normally either codified or have very clear precedent.
In taking the action that they did the United States are likely to claim legality under Article 51 of the UN Charter. This says:
“ Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
In his speech on the 8th January Trump said clearly that not only was Soleimani responsible for attacks on American citizens, but the US had evidence that he was planning even more such attacks. In the eyes of the US administration, the intelligence that they claim to have gave them justification under Article 51 to take pre-emptive action.
However, other legal scholars will argue that the right to carry out extrajudicial killings in this way only exists when they is a clear and imminent threat, which it seems there is unlikely to be.
Ultimately, law is only as powerful as the level to which it can be enforced. No major power is going to militarily take up arms against the US response and economic sanctions are likely to be counter to their own interests. The Realist view of global politics dominates here. Realists believe that global politics is constantly dominated by the security dilemma. The killing of Soleimani was calculated not only to remove an individual who was a threat, but perhaps more importantly, to send a clear message to the Iranian regime that the US will not permit Iran to destabilise the Middle East, an area of significant strategic, economic and political importance to the United States.
In 1976 Lord Hailsham coined the term ‘elective dictatorship’ to describe the extent to which the Government controls the Parliament of the day. Essentially, the term implies that in the UK political system, when elected, a government can essentially take whatever actions it wants without effective scrutiny.
There is no doubt that, generally, the elective dictatorship does exist. However, depending on the make-up of Parliament and the circumstances of the day, it can subside in certain circumstances. For example, Theresa May’s premiership, in which she lost two votes on her Withdrawal Agreement, can certainly not be described as ‘elective dictatorship’. Equally, until the General Election of December 2019, her successor was not in control of Parliament. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his first four divisions (parliamentary votes) and became the first Prime Minister since 1894 to lose their very first parliamentary division.
So, given Elective Dictatorship normally exists, what factors lead to it?
- The UK Electoral System tends towards firm majorities
The First Past the Post system has the effect of creating a clear two-party system. First Past the Post is also a ‘winner takes all system’, this means that minor parties find it incredibly difficult to establish a presence in Parliament. This is because votes cast for smaller parties in most constituencies are unlikely to topple one of the two major parties. For example, in the 2019 General Election the Conservatives won 365 seats and the Greens won 1 seat. Nationally, it took an average of 38,264 votes for each seat the Conservatives won, but 865, 707 votes led to the Greens winning just one seat.
The fact that minor parties find it difficult to make an electoral impact means that power swings between the two major parties and the swing between them is usually enough to ensure a majority in Parliament. The average majority in Parliament since 1945 is 58.4 seats with only three hung parliaments in this time. Added to this is the fact that landslide victories are not uncommon in the U.K. system. Some of the biggest are:
Clement Attlee (Labour) – Majority of 147 Seats in 1945
Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) – Majority of 144 in 1983
Tony Blair (Labour) – Majority of 178 in 1997
In cases such as these, it is clear that the government will be almost impossible to control.
2. The Government controls the parliamentary agenda
The agenda and activities of the House of Commons are largely controlled by the Government as dictated by Standing Orders (the rules of Parliament). It is Standing Order 14 (1) that outlines that the government usually have control of the parliamentary agenda:
“Save as provided in this order, government business shall have precedence at every sitting.”
Other time allocated in Parliament that is not controlled by the government is limited to:
- 20 Days for Opposition Business
- 35 Days for Backbench Business
- 13 Fridays for Backbench Private Members Bill
3. The House of Commons dominates the House of Lords
Further to the fact that the Government largely controls the House of Commons, the House of Commons is dominant over the House of Lords. There are a number of reasons for this:
Parliament Acts (1911 & 1949) – The Parliament Acts mean that the House of Lords can no longer block legislation, but merely delay it for one year. If the House of Lords blocks a bill they the House of Commons wants to pass, it can invoke the Parliament Act. This means that if the same bill were passed by the Commons in the subsequent year, it could be forced into law. The Parliament Act has only been invoked four times since 1949 (most recently for the Hunting Act 2005) but the very fact that it exists makes the Lords more reticent to challenge the Commons.
Salisbury Convention – Since the 1940s it has become a well established convention that the House of Lords does not vote against a bill that was clearly a part of the Government’s election manifesto. The reasoning behind this is that if an issue was in the manifesto of the winning party in the election it is fair to infer that the policy has a mandate from the people. As an example of this, the 2019 Conservative Manifesto said that their government would bring in “An Australian-style points-based system to control immigration”. This means that if this policy appears in a bill, the Lords will assent to it under the Salisbury Convention.
Financial Privilege – By long-standing Convention the House of Lords does not vote against any bill that is raising money, for example a bill to raise taxes or the Government’s Yearly Budget.
4. Party Loyalty
One of the most important factors that create the impact of ‘elective dictatorship’ is party loyalty. In the UK political system it is exceptionally difficult to become an MP without standing as part of a political party. Currently, there is only independent MP in the House of Commons, however, Neale Hanvey was on the Ballot Paper as an SNP member, but was suspended just before the election. The last true independent in the U.K. was Sylvia Hermon who was elected as an Independent MP for North Down between 2010 and 2019.
Not only do MPs rely on their parties to be elected, they also rely on their party for their career development. Most MPs want to advance their career, either becoming a Select Committee Member or a Minister or Shadow Minister. To become a Minister or Shadow Minister they have to keep their party onside, whilst becoming a Select Committee Member will be much easier with the support of their parties.
As a result of this, rebellions in the House of Commons are rare. Although there are naturally rebellious MPs (Jeremy Corbyn famously voted against his own party 428 times when he was a backbencher) most MPs ‘toe the party line’ and vote the way that their party whips want them to, enhancing the power of political parties and contributing to the elective dictatorship.
The fact that Britain has a fusion of powers means that if the executive can keep their own party onside, they will normally be able to carry out most of their agenda. This is different from the United States, where there is a separation of powers. Often, in the United States there is a ‘divided government’ meaning that the party of the President does not control the Senate and House of Representatives. This makes it very hard for the President to carry out any agenda they may have, as President Trump has found.
There can be no doubt that the elective dictatorship is a concept that fits the U.K. political system. Between 1945 and 2019 there have been 19,919 divisions (votes) in the House of Commons. Of these, only 148 have been lost by the Government. This means that 99.2% of all divisions have been won by the Government – a clear indication of the power of the executive. The effects of the ‘elective dictatorship’ depend on a variety of factors, particularly the size of a parliamentary majority and the cohesiveness of the governing party. Following a period under Theresa May when she had no majority and struggled to reconcile her own party on Brexit, with Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 it is likely the elective dictatorship is back.
The Chagos Islands are an Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. They comprise more than 60 individual islands and their sovereignty is under dispute.
The French were the first great power to stake a claim to the Islands in the 18th Century. At the time the Islands were uninhabited. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the islands were ceded to Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris. The Islands were administered from Mauritius, which was also ceded to Britain as part of the treaty.
From 1840 onwards the islands became permanently inhabited, most of the inhabitant were descended from slaves, however, they were Freeman. This remained the status quo for a century.
By the 1960s British Decolonisation was advancing rapidly and it was clear that British control of Mauritius was coming to an end. In preemption of this, the British Government paid Mauritius £3 Million Pounds in in 1965 to purchase the Chagos Islands. Their position in the Indian Ocean made them strategically important, particularly as Britain tried to balance its loss of overseas territory with the ability to remain a global power. The purchased islands were renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Over the next five years, Britain depopulated the islands. This was done in secret and without international knowledge. By 1973 the entire population of around 2,000 Chagos Islanders had been removed from the islands and the inhabitants were moved to Mauritius, a state that most islanders had never set foot on before.
In 1971, Britain and the United States signed a treaty which gave the US a leasehold over the islands in order to build a Naval and Air Base which the US saw as essential in limiting Soviet influence in the Indian Ocean. As part of the agreement, the British received significant discounts on the Polaris Nuclear Weapons system that formed the basis of Britain’s nuclear deterrent until 1996 when it was replaced with Trident. The US Air Base remains active and was used in both Gulf Wars and for action in Afghanistan.
In the 1980s Mauritius claimed sovereignty of the islands. They contended that the 1965 separation was illegal under international law. In recent years, the dispute has escalated significantly.
In 2010 the UK Government declared a Marine Protection Area (MPA) around the Islands. It is currently the world’s largest Marine Protection Area. This places legal limits on ships or aircraft entering the established zone. MPAs are usually established to protect wildlife or to create oceanic research areas, however, classified diplomatic correspondence between the UK and US released by Wikileaks in 2010 clearly indicate that an ulterior motive in the creation of the MPA might be to prevent Chagos Islanders from reinhabiting the Islands:
“ Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory]”
Legal Action in UK Courts
In 2006 Chaggosians won a case in the U.K. High Court to return to the Chagos Islands but the decision was appealed by the U.K. Government. The Court of Appeals agreed with the High Court but again the U.K. Government appealed the decision, so it went to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (Law Lords), then the highest court in the U.K. In 2008, the Law Lords ruled 3-2 in the Government’s favour ending the Chagossians hopes of returning.
Representations to the Court of Permanent Arbitration
In 2015 Mauritius launched action against the British Government under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Government of Mauritius argued that the MPA was illegal under the UN Convention.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration is located at The Hague. The PCA is not a UN institution, but is utilised by UN Members as a place to resolve international disputes. In March 2015, the PCA ruled that Britain had acted illegally by creating the MPA. Although this ruling was not legally binding on Britain, it was a huge blow to the international legitimacy of their actions.
Deliberations of the UN General Assembly and International Court of Justice
In June 2017 the UN General Assembly voted by 94-15 to refer the case to the International Court of Justice. The 15 who voted against the referral, such as the USA and Australia, argued that this was a bilateral dispute that should be resolved directly by the two parties.
In February 2019 the International Court of Justice rules that the separation of the Chagos Islands from Mauritius in 1965 had been illegal and ruled that the territory should be returned to Mauritius as soon as practically possible.
In response to the ICJ ruling the U.K. Government has so far refused to comply. When asked about the issue in the House of Commons in May 2019 the Minister for Africa said:
“…the Chagos archipelago has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814…The whole world benefits from the security provided by having this base in the Indian Ocean”
This case highlights one of the fundamental limits of the International Court of Justice – the decisions it makes are not binding, they simply add to the canon of International Law and, at times, put pressure on Governments to consider their policies. However, they rely on other institutions to carry out any ruling they give.
Pressure on the U.K. grew in May 2019 when the UN General Assembly voted by 116-6 to condemn the British ‘occupation’ of the Chagos Islands. The US, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives were the only countries to back the U.K’s stance on the Islands. Even the Pope voiced his concerns during an Indian Ocean visit:
“ You must obey international institutions. That is why the United Nations were created. That’s why international courts were created.”
However, the motion, this time from the General Assembly, is not binding. There is still no legal impetus for Britain to take positive action and refused to recognise the claim of Mauritius to the islands.
Britain shows no signs of vacillating on the issue and, with knowledge that they have the support of the US, there is unlikely to be anything that can force them to budge. This does highlight some of the fundamental weaknesses of the UN and other intergovernmental organisations:
- Motions are rarely binding. They rely on self enforcement. When major powers are the subject of criticism, little is likely to force them to relent.
- International Law is still widely disputed and despite Liberal intentions, it cannot be consistently enforced.
The case of the Chagos Islands looks set to continue with seemingly no likelihood that Britain will make any concessions.