Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 2010 Labour Leadership Election: is Ed Miliband beholden to unions?

Some commentators have raised several concerns over the manner by which the Labour Party selects its leader. The election is decided via an electoral college consisting of MPs and MEPs, CLPs, and affiliated members. The election and final results can be found here. Ed Miliband (pictured) is the winner.

One criticism is that Ed Miliband is now beholden to the unions, who favoured him over his brother. What to make of this? Well, a few things:

1. First, there is no "unions" section of the party's electoral college, although there is an "affiliated members" section. The affiliated members include several unions, such as GMB and UNITE, and the number of union votes is higher. However, affiliated members also include the Christian Socialist Movement, the Fabian Society, and Scientists for Labour. Their members may be fewer in number, but their votes count just as much. (Before you ask, the Fabians narrowly went for David Miliband with the other two going for Ed Miliband.) Ed Miliband won the affiliated members vote and this group is more inclusive than many commentators may think.

2. Secondly, some have argued that it is a problem that the party leader could be decided upon, in part, by groups where members may not be Labour Party members themselves. It is the case that full voting membership of at least some, if not all, of these groups requires membership of the Labour Party: this is true with the Fabian Society. It is also true that many union members did not take part in voting. However, it might be a particular strength that Ed Miliband won over the affiliated members as this may be a sign that he has popularity beyond more narrow Labour Party circles. This is to his benefit.

3. Finally, others have argued that it seems wrong that some Labour Party members may have more than one vote. Thus, a party member who was also in a union and in an associated society might have three votes. However, I do not see this as especially problematic either. The reason is simple. A vote as a party member counts towards the CLP (e.g., constituency) voting section of the electoral college. The extra two votes in the affiliated members section are cast in a different part of the electoral college. In some sense, those with greater roots in the party based upon memberships in specific organizations may have more weight than those who lack such deeper roots. While there is something attractive about one person = one vote, the electoral college system used by the Labour Party is an attempt to select a leader using a wider range of metrics.

My argument here is not to argue that every organization should have a similar electoral college system, but only to say that I believe the Labour Party's system is defensible and coherent. Plus, it's a good test for any party leader to be able to attract votes from Labour and beyond anyway.

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