The Great Debate UK

Labour’s leaders sustained more by loyalty than support


Mark Wickham-Jones- Mark Wickham-Jones is an expert on the history of Labour over the last twenty-five years. His particular area of interest is the evolution of the party’s policy commitments since 1983, the changes to its organisational structure and the nature of its electoral outlook. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Labour’s failure to get rid of Gordon Brown is indicative of one of the taboos governing the politics of the party. This week’s decision to stick with Brown does not reflect the preferences of Labour MPs, most of whom clearly regard the prime minister as a massive electoral liability.

Far from it, the outcome is indicative of the extent to which choices within the Labour Party are determined by traditions, norms, and established practices, ones that are made regardless of what might be desirable in the prevailing circumstances.

Throughout its hundred year history, Labour has demonstrated an overwhelming loyalty to whoever has held the post of party leader, no matter how unpopular the incumbent might be either among members or voters. Such unswerving devotion is an indication of how Labour is governed by informal traditions as opposed to the formal procedures laid out in its complex rulebook.