Our union makes us strong
Within seconds of the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader being announced this afternoon, media outlets and the twittersphere began to complain that Ed had been elected not by grassroots Labour supporters but by the “Unions” – hinting at some terribly un-democratic process which somehow these terrible militant organisations had managed to wield over the Labour Party. ( David Cameron punches air as unions hand Labour leadership to Ed Miliband (guardian.co.uk) )
Well let’s get a bit of perspective on that …
First of all the only Unions that get to have a say in the Labour leadership election are those formally affiliated to the party – and there aren’t that many of them. My own union – the National Union of Teachers is not one of them.
Next – members of affiliated organisations know about their union’s affiliation before they join it – there’s no such thing as a closed shop any more – and can opt out of paying the ‘political fund’ part of the membership fee (although that would also lose them their vote in the leadership election).
There’s also no such thing as a block vote – every vote in an affiliated organisation is worth the same – whether you’re one of the 83 members eligible to vote in the Labour Party Irish Society or one of the 1,055,074 eligible members of Unite the Union – the largest affiliated organisation. Every individual vote counts the same – and goes to make up 1/3 of the electoral college.
1/3 of the college is made up of Labour MP’s
1/3 is made up of Labour Party Members.
This means that different votes have different values in each section. Effectively an MP’s vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent. ( see this Next Left blog for details Next Left: What Labour leadership votes are worth when they are counted) (This assumes 100% turnout btw – which is far from the case)
It’s all very clear – a little involved, but does manage to capture every aspect not just of the Labour Party, but of the wider Labour movement – which allows Labour supporters in affiliated groups to have a say even if they are not formally party members.
Note also that the party, and many affiliated organisations have been very open about giving new members a vote – in this way opening up the election to the general public should they take the plunge and join even up to a few days before voting closed.
The full results Votes by round | The Labour Party show that indeed sections 1 and 2 of the ballot, the MPs and the Party Members, placed David Miliband first, whilst section 3 – the affiliated organisations – of which the unions are the biggest part, plumped for Ed Miliband.
Just have a look at the numbers though – 211,234 returned votes from affiliated members, as opposed to just 126,874 from full members of the party.
Undemocratic ? Not in my book it’s not.
Compare it with the way that the Conservatives choose their leader Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2005 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – in the Tory system, the rank and file party members don’t even get to vote until the MP’s have selected the last two candidates for them. Even then they have to have been a fully paid up member for at least 3 months to get a vote. A distinctly less democratic approach in my own humble opinion.
Democracy is always flawed to some extent, but is an attempt to reach a difficult consensus, in the fairest way possible. I think the approach used in the Labour leadership election is probably the fairest that could have been achieved. I say that having voted David Miliband as first choice – yes I’d have preferred him to win – but Ed Miliband has been elected fair and square by hundreds of thousands of Labour members and members of affiliated trades unions and organisations. I have no complaints – and will support him as best I can.
If Labour were to look at difficulties in the electoral college by the way, they might want to consider the anomaly that a low turnout in any of the 3 sections means that individual votes in that section are given relatively more weight as part of the whole college as a result. Just a thought – maybe next time ?
In the meantime congratulations to Ed Miliband – please leave a comment if you happen to read this !
- Labour’s voting system: the case for reform (newstatesman.com)
- How Ed can counter the Tories’ attack lines (newstatesman.com)
- Ed Miliband victory is ‘a great leap backwards’, say Tories (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband elected new leader of the Labour Party at Manchester conference (menmedia.co.uk)