Is Labour ready for the flack over its election system?

Is Labour ready for the flack over its election system?

    Are the party rules “fit for purpose?

If I was an opposition “attack dog” I would be licking my lips in anticipation over Labour’s coming leadership election. For unlike what has become the norm in other parties the choice of Labour leader is not determined by a membership ballot in which all votes have equal value.

For a process that might have looked democratic when last used 12 years ago when the party was not in power now has a dated feel about it and could be tested severely when the election happens.

    Because this will be about choosing a new Prime Minister every little bit of the process will be subject to the most intense scrutiny. However hard Labour tries this will be much more than an internal party matter.

Given that knocking the gloss off the new leader must be the Lib Dems and the Tories’ first priority then discrediting Labour’s electoral process will be a good place to start – and the system that’s in place offers some easy targets.

No doubt opponents will have fun suggesting that just like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm with the Labour party “all animals are equal except that some animals are more equal than others”.

For in terms of electoral power an ordinary Labour member has just one third the impact of a Lib Dem, Tory or other UK party member. And an individual Labour MP’s vote is equivalent to the views of just about 500 ordinary party members.

This is because, unlike the other parties, the 180,000 members get between them just a third of the overall votes in the electoral college – the same as the 360 odd MPs.

Another line of attack will, of course, be the 33.3% of the electoral college that makes the decision that goes to the trade unions. Although this is now decided by balloting individual union members expect an effort to link this to the current party funding row.

We’ll hear that the unions are being given massive influence in choosing the next PM in return for their cash. You can forsee Labour being put on the back foot when it’s suggested that the most unionised parts of the economy are in the public sector – workers who are hardly unbiased because their livelihoods are dependent on the public purse.

None of the other parties at Westminster gives donors any extra say in leadership elections – so why should Labour?

Then there is multiple voting which might take a bit of explaining and looks anti-democratic. Thus an MP who is in a union and is a member of the Fabian Society will be able to vote four times – all giving more ammunition for opposition attack dogs.

    So we have the formula: 1 MP = 500 members = 2,777 trade unionists

I’ve deliberately set out these “flaws” in a simplified and biased manner to show how vulnerable I believe that Labour is. Unfair? Certainly – but that’s the nature of political argument. Well thought out slogans and sound-bites can get remembered.

Many Labour figures are hoping that an open well fought contest will provide a real boost to the party. Maybe that will happen – but it could be dominated by attacks on the election rules?

Thanks to Philip Grant who has stood in as guest editor and all those who have contributed guest slots during my vacation.

Mike Smithson

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