How much do union nominations matter?

16th July, 2010 10:53 am

UnionsBy Sunder Katwala / @nextleft

How much difference will trade union endorsements make in the Labour leadership?

The truth is that nobody knows for sure. There is a tendency to overstate the influence of union executives in “delivering” swathes of voters, partly a hangover from the days of the trade union bloc vote, so that the 1983 leadership contest was effectively in the bag for Neil Kinnock by teatime on the day the election was announced.

Fortunately, party democracy has come a long way – and candidates need to appeal to several million individual voters, who will not vote as a block.

What we do know is that the last time Labour held a leadership election, union endorsements made almost no difference at all, as can be seen by the lists of formal supporting nominations for the candidates in that three-way contest.

Tony Blair won 52.3% of the affiliated section of the ballot, against 28.4% for John Prescott and 19.3% for Margaret Beckett. The figures for the affiliated section were pretty close to those among individual party members, where Blair won 58.2% with Prescott on 24.4% and Margaret Beckett on 17.4%.

Margaret Beckett had a supporting nomination from the large Transport and General Workers Union.

John Prescott had formal supporting nominations from the following:

Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen; Graphical, Paper &
Media Union; National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies & Shotfirers;
National Union of Mineworkers; National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport
Workers

While Tony Blair had only the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation – a decade later to become part of the merged union Community, which has nominated David Miliband. (Blair also got rather apt supporting nominations from the Christian Socialist Movement and the Society of Labour Lawyers, as well as Labour students).

So the lesson of 1994 was that nominations had a very weak effect on individual votes in the affiliated section.

However, the candidates are aware that they made rather more difference in 2007, as Patrick Wintour has set out, though the union-by-union figures no longer appear to be publicly available. On the first ballot, Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn did much better among individual members than affiliates, while John Cruddas and Peter Hain did much better among affiliate voters.

Which precedent is more likely to be relevant in 2010?

One might expect endorsements to play a considerably more important role in a deputy leadership contest.

Firstly, there is considerably less national media coverage of a deputy leadership contest, though it is also true that the 2010 race has had less media profile (certainly for any single candidate) than was the case in 1994, where a mid-term contest with Labour so far ahead in the polls made the winner an overwhelming favourite to be the next Prime Minister.

Secondly, there was a much smaller turnout in a deputy race. (From memory, this was as low as 9-10% among trade unions in the affiliated section in 2007, though socialist society turnout – 50% among Fabian Society members – was usually more like that of individual party members). The low union turnout meant that the relative weight of closely engaged union members and activists, perhaps most likely to be engaged with union committee endorsements, would be considerably greater. (My personal guesstimate is that a leadership contest turnout will be at least triple that, and probably higher).

However, perhaps a countervailing difference between 2010 and 1994 is the larger field of leadership candidates, and the more nuanced differences in terms of the political positioning of several of the leading candidates. And if a union endorsement might have some influence on voters’ second preferences, that could well matter in 2010 as it did not in the three-cornered first round victory of Blair in 1994.

This was also posted at Next Left.

Latest

  • News Hundreds of councillors sign pro-Corbyn letter

    Hundreds of councillors sign pro-Corbyn letter

    Over 240 Labour councillors have signed an open letter giving their continued backing to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and slammed the moves against him as “indulgent” and “self-defeating”. This is the latest sign of a grassroots lashback against MPs’ attempts to get rid of Corbyn as leader, following a large rally outside Parliament on Monday night, and a NewsNight survey of 50 Constituency Labour Party (CLP) chairs that found 90 per cent were still behind him. The 246 councillors say they […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Uncategorized “This is not ideological. The situation has become untenable” – Ed Miliband’s letter calling on Corbyn to quit

    “This is not ideological. The situation has become untenable” – Ed Miliband’s letter calling on Corbyn to quit

    This is the letter sent by Ed Miliband to his Doncaster North constituents after he called on his successor Jeremy Corbyn to stand down as leader of the Labour Party. Dear Labour member, I am writing to explain to you why I have today called on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down as Leader of the Labour Party. I have been loyal to Jeremy throughout his tenure as Leader. I resisted calls to speak out against him when he was running for […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Local Government Labour needs strong leadership – without power, you cannot do anything, a councillor writes

    Labour needs strong leadership – without power, you cannot do anything, a councillor writes

    I have just approved the final plans for how my council will deal with the Tory Government’s absurd cuts to public health budgets. This will mean reductions in services that help people stay healthy and which ultimately can save the NHS money in the future. They are cuts that are short-sighted and will be damaging. Similar decisions are taken every day by councils across the country. Six years into a Tory Government these decisions, taking money out of important public […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News Labour MEPs join demands for Corbyn to go

    Labour MEPs join demands for Corbyn to go

    The leader of Labour in the European Parliament has today sent a letter to Jeremy Corbyn on behalf of Labour MEPs, calling on him to step down. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) met today for the first time since last week’s Brexit vote, and agreed to send Corbyn the letter outlining their “very serious concerns”. The letter, sent by EPLP leader Glenis Willmott, criticises the nature of the party’s handling of the referendum issue in the days following the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Uncategorized Momentum calls off pro-Corbyn rally

    Momentum calls off pro-Corbyn rally

    Momentum have postponed a pro-Corbyn rally planned for tonight as the uncertainty around the Labour leadership continues. The Corbynite group said they had been “overwhelmed” by supporters wanting to attend and that it would not be safe to hold the gathering at the planned location outside the TUC’s Congress House. The event had been due to call on Labour members to “keep the new politics alive” by pressuring senior figures in the Labour movement to support Corbyn. However, they have […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit