The Labour NEC meeting on Tuesday, one week after Labour left office, expects to set out the timetable for a leadership contest.
Ann Black blogs on LabourList there are "two main options" for a contest that ends in July, and one that ends in September. Peter Kenyon earlier suggested three options would be considered. (I am not aware of any public information on what the NEC options are). My own view is that there is a very strong case to hold the contest through the Autumn to give us the healthiest debate and most opportunities to reach out and engage.
Everybody knows this contest will be one of the most important parts of Labour's renewal for several years. What will matter is not only who wins, but how the contest is held. How is Labour planning to maximise the opportunity to engage more people into our party's debates, and share ownership of that mission throughout the party? Or will a good deal of that great opportunity be missed?
So to Tuesday's NEC: What would be more valuable than setting the timetable and process would be a short pause to ask the members, canvassing widely and openly for members' views on what approach, ideas and timetable would enable us all to engage as many people as possible with Labour's debate and future. Even a fortnight, in the right spirit, could make a difference, though four weeks would be better for CLPs to fully engage and respond.
It was immediately clear at Saturday's Fabian conference that the party is fizzing at every level with ideas about how we could do that. I also expect that we will hear much more about how important and valued Labour's footsoldiers were in the campaign. Everybody will talk about how we open up, democratise our party culture, and show members, activists and supporters that their views are really valued.
Here's the first big chance to show that means something. After all, tens of thousands of us have received emails as Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Peter Mandelson, other ministers, party officials and supportive celebs keep in touch to encourage activism, ask for funds, and let us hear what the leadership thinks.
Should that communication always be a one-way process? Or does the party leadership, governing body and HQ want to ask us all about something that really matters to our party's future?
Harriet Harman has only been acting leader for a few days. So it is understandable that there does not seem to have been any structured attempt at all to find out what party members think about how we maximise the opportunities of this contest, or to gather, facilitate and encourage a swarm of new ideas about how the party can use it to reach out and engage.
I am sceptical that all of the innovation and expertise on this front can be found around the NEC table. (The party has recently become a little more open to this kind of engagement, with its opennes to examples of ideas "from below" like labourdoorstep and MobMonday, and screening Against All Odds party political broadcast. But the scale of cultural shift needed remains very large. The party and NEC need to show it can happen on major, politically salient issues - like how we run the leadership contest, and how we rethink the party's internal democratic structures again).
That the party is fizzing with ideas about the opportunity the contest brings to engage many more people was a recurring theme of Saturday's conference. My Fabian predecessor Michael Jacobs, liberated from six years in 10 Downing Street and the Treasury, made an important challenge to affiliated bodies including the Fabians and others in the party to take responsibility for ensuring that we did not just have a "top down" leadership debate - where candidates talk from on high to members - but made a concerted effort for members to shape debates too, and to ensure we engage progressive audiences beyond the party. There were many comments in a similar spirit throughout the day - how to encourage more democratic and a more open party culture.
That is certainly something we shall try to take up, whatever the timetable we end up with, and on which I welcome further views.
Let's hope the party is thinking hard about this too.
If it is, then before the NEC sets the process and timetable, it should #askthemembers about how the leadership contest can help to spark the change we need.
PS: Despite very little chance to discuss it yet, "slow down and get it right" was the dominant view at Saturday's Fabian conference and in online discussion: anybody fearing a 'civil war' might be impressed by an idea which unites Compass and Denis MacShane, Tom Watson, Chuka Ummuna, Jim Knight, me from the Fabians, Left Foot Forward, Alex Smith of LabourList Tristram Hunt MP and A very public sociologist among others.
I can't claim this snapshot is necessarily representative of party opinion as there has been little chance for discussion. Almost nobody has publicly advocated a snap July contest since the Coalition was formed.
Some counter-arguments have been put by NEC member Peter Kenyon strongly favours the NEC September proposal, who has also stressed the administrative timing and costs of other planned membership mailouts and ballots, going as far as to argue against using conference for what he strangely calls "a wannabee strutting gig" which would be "apeing the Tories" (ie, making public debate about the party leadership accessible to the widest range of party and public audiences!). He tweets "I say stick to the rules". For our first leadership contest in 15 years, party members are looking to the elected governing body to set fair rules for a contest timetable which does all it can for the party's recovery and renewal.
Clifford Singer, who created the great MyDavidCameron site, also talked about the opportunities to recruit members and engage others too. He is among the ex-Labour members thinking of rejoining the party, telling Saturday's conference that "I left so long ago I can't remember what it was about now".
"Any Labour supporter with a brain knows that the last thing we need is a rushed leadership election - which probably means that what we will get is a rushed leadership election", he said.