Miliband’s union-link reforms can’t end up being a power grab by the PLP

July 14, 2013 1:56 pm

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.

  • RogerMcC

    Oh yes they can….

    The Tory system of an MP ballot producing a shortlist for OMOV actually works and should just be copied.

    Very much doubt it will though.

    • robertcp

      I agree.

    • PaulHalsall

      It was better when the Queen choose the leading Tory. Macmillan was far far to the left of anybody but the Greens, and built 300,000 houses a year. He was pro EU, keen on the end of empire, and did nothing to challenge Atlee’s achievement.

      • RogerMcC

        But she didn’t.

        Tory leaders were elected if the party was in opposition (which was rarely the case in the twentieth century when Tories were in government for 67 out of 100 years) and only ‘emerged’ when they had to replace one when in government (as was the case with Baldwin, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Home) as the fiction was maintained that the monarch chose the best Prime Minister on the advice of her privy counsellors and the Tories then graciously declared them to be their leader without anything so vulgar as a vote being necessary.

        This was only really problematic when Churchill emerged in 1940 as Tory MPs remained stubbornly loyal to Chamberlain and were also not unaware that the crisis was actually the result of Churchill’s own bungling of the Norway campaign – so a considerable amount of arms twisting and moral blackmail took place until enough Tory MPs could be persuaded to at least passively accept him as their leader (with their not needing to have a vote actually being rather convenient in this case).

        QE2 clearly had no actual choice in the the case of Eden, Macmillan and Home and if she had then in the last would presumably have gone for Butler, Hogg, Maudling or MacLeod instead.

        • PaulHalsall

          I think she did have a real choice between Macmillan and Butler.

    • FMcGonigal

      The Tory system enabled the MPs to squeeze out Portillo and gave the leadership to IDS!

  • ColinAdkins

    One member one vote of equal value please. No to the MPs block vote.

  • Amber_Star

    Why not have a run-off ballot where any MPs who want to throw their hat into the ring can do so. One member, one vote run-off to whittle it down to the top 2 male & top 2 female candidates; thereafter policy platforms & hustings can happen over a sensible time period before the final one member, one vote ballot. Top candidate is leader; top candidate of the other gender is deputy. And because the leader & deputy is done at the same time, the run-off + final need cost no more in time or money than having two separate contests.

    • RogerMcC

      Cost mainly.

      Multi-stage OMOV ballots are expensive and Ed’s just declared we no longer need all the money from trade unionist affiliations.

      The Tories do a ballot of MPs to produce a 2-candidate shortlist – I’d go for 3 instaed of which no more than two can be of either gender and OMOV them with the second placed candidate automatically becoming Deputy Leader.

      But seriously who’s asking us?

    • FMcGonigal

      As its an AV vote anyway there is no need for the expense of a separate run-off.
      However the gender balance is a novel and great idea.

  • Monkey_Bach

    I think the name for this is oligarchy. New Labour’s wettest dream. Eeek.

  • Steve Stubbs

    Why are they so afraid of one man one vote? (We have that already, except the one man with the vote is the leader of Unite …..)

  • Daniel Speight

    All the party’s problems stem from the PLP, yet Johnson wants to give them the power to self-perpetuate.

    • Iskra holstein

      Boy you need a thick hide to become an MP these days!! You put your life and that of your family on hold for years and then have to look at comments like this one!! Are we ever giong to get the representation we need ( a bunch of rhinoceroses…

  • McCurry

    I like the idea of nominations being whittled down by the MPs.
    I agree that 50% for MPs is too much, but I do think they should have a bigger influence than ordinary members I would be happy if it was 30/70 or even 40/60 in favour of members.

  • StevenBoxall

    It was Labour MPs who voted (unanimously, I believe) for Gordon Brown to be leader despite them being the best placed to know about his ‘faults’, and look where that led us.

  • FMcGonigal

    I would go in the opposite direction to Alan Johnson: One Person one vote whether the person is an MP, an individual member or a Trade Union affiliated member.

  • RogerMcC

    Only because they reduce it to a two-person run-off – if they’d had three Portillo would have gone through.

    Still think IDS would have won though – remember that worthless little man got 61% against Ken Clarke.

  • Chrisso

    Did you mean one member one vote, perchance?

    • Steve Stubbs

      Of course.

  • Chrisso

    It makes eminent sense to me that the PLP selects the leadership candidates. It’s the PLP that ultimately stands or falls by its leader. A shortlist of three should be selected by PLP ballot. There should be no gender fix, I would say that there should be no rule that no more than two can be of either gender, white; etc. Surely Labour can be expected to encourage and support good female and black candidates from its membership? It has long had a greater proportion of both than in the Coalition parties. Once three candidates are PLP selected the ultimate vote should be by STV and One Member One Vote whether PLP member, union-affiliated Labour member or a CLP member. Leader and runner-up determines the deputy leadership too. The leader should determine the shadow cabinet. The leader has to show the country that he or she is in the driving seat. No doubt the leader will consult the deputy leader closely in that process.

    I say this as a supporter – not a member.

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