Today in the Independent, Alan Johnson says the following on future Labour leadership contests, which will now be carried out under a much changed system following Ed Miliband’s announced reform of the union-link:
“if the electoral college survives it will be on the basis of a 50/50 split between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the membership.”
Such a proposal is worrying – to say the least – because handing 50% of the votes to Labour MPs would make a process that is already massively biased in their favour completely dominated by a madcap scramble for the votes of a handful of MPs, at the expense of trying to win the votes of Labour members.
Currently Labour MPs nominate the candidates for a leadership contest. That’s sensible, as a leader who can’t command the support of a decent percentage of the PLP wouldn’t be able to lead the party. We could even go further, and say that MPs should vote – as the Tories do – to whittle the shortlist for leadership candidates down to 2 or 3 viable candidates. Far too much time was spent in the leadership contest in 2010 discussing the relative merits of the ideas and policy platforms of Abbott, Burnham and even Balls, when it was clear from day one that none of them were going to win.
But handing half of the votes in the final leadership contest to the PLP would be madness. That would mean – on current party membership levels – that each MP vote would be worth around a thousand ordinary party member votes. Like the Lord of the manor in a rotten borough, they would command such an overwhelming heft that it would render the other half of the electoral college less important – and party members would find themselves sidelined. Because it’s far easier to win the vote of one MP than it is to win the vote of 1000 party members spread across the country, the inevitable outcome would be a helter skelter chase for the votes of MPs, with the membership ballot an afterthought at best, or a foregone conclusion at worst.
If the union/affiliate section of the leadership election is to be abolished in future – which as I noted on Tuesday seems the most likely outcome – then the only sensible way to proceed and create the “movement” party that Ed Miliband says he wants is to have One Member One Vote for the leadership contest. That means every union affiliate opt-in member, ordinary party member, councillor, CLP Chair and MP would have one vote. Their votes would all count equally. It would be incredibly simple to see who had won (clue – the person with the most votes), and we can stop faffing around with “registered supporters” and other assorted boondoggles that don’t help build a better party, fund an election campaign or help create a movement.
If the electoral college goes, the only reasonable option is OMOV. The alternative – a power grab by the PLP – would sadly make our party more narrow, more factional, more sectional and more elitist. Which is the exact opposite to what the Labour leader professed to want earlier this week, and should be the last thing anyone wants – even our MPs.