By 196 votes to 41, Labour MPs have endorsed Ed Miliband's proposal to abolish bi-annual elections to the Shadow Cabinet and allow him to pick its members. If endorsed by Labour's autumn conference (and it will) this will mean that the leader, and only the leader, can decide who will sit on the Front Bench.
Miliband and his supporters have justified this move by claiming that Shadow Cabinet elections are a 'distraction' from the real task of opposing the government and ensuring the return of Labour to office. 'The only election members of my shadow cabinet should be worrying about', Miliband has said, 'is the general election'. Others have also implied that not all of those currently in the Shadow Cabinet are up to the job and that some bright new talents are languishing on the Back Benches.
In the great scheme of things this is a small measure and it is not surprising that it has caused hardly a ripple outside Westminster; even many in the Labour party seem unmoved.
History however rarely proceeds through Big Bangs; instead it moves via a series of often-imperceptible whimpers, which by the time they have taken full effect are too late to reverse. Miliband's proposal is one such whimper.
For it was just before World War One that Robert Michels coined the term the 'iron law of oligarchy' through which he described what he believed would be the ever-increasing grip over once democratic parties of the left by their Parliamentary elites.
Now, Labour was never a democratic party, in the sense that all its members had much of a direct say in the election of its leaders and the determination of their policies. In fact none of Britain's major (and minor) parties are, in any straightforward sense, democratic. Labour from the outset was a complex federation of different kinds of representative bodies but one in which, ultimately but not always, the Parliamentary leadership usually held sway.
However, since the disastrous 1983 election defeat - blamed by some on the influence of far-left members imposing on the leadership an extreme manifesto - the power of the party leader has slowly but surely increased. Neil Kinnock was the first to try and manage the party in this way, but the process came to a head with Tony Blair.
Miliband is now taking matters a few steps further than Blair - which is rather ironic for a man once dubbed 'Red Ed'. The wider context for his Shadow Cabinet proposal is the 'Refounding Labour' project which ostensibly aims to transform the party into a more outward-looking organization that can better engage people presently alienated from politics. Many of the proposals have yet to be formulated let alone debated and accepted. But there is a danger that Refounding Labour will result in the hollowing out of the party so that its internal life ceases to exist in any real, political, sense and transform Labour locally into a quasi-social body campaigning on issues determined by the leadership and at a time of their choosing. This was in fact a future for the party once outlined by the likes of the now-defunct Blairite Labour Coordinating Committee.
Political leaders - not just in the Labour party - habitually talk about devolving power and engaging people at the grassroots. But they do so at the head of parties in which their own members, including their elected representatives, have little say in decision-making. Stopping Labour MPs from voting for their own Shadow Cabinet is a small step but one that is part of a well-established journey going in one, consistent, direction: All Power To The Leader!