The progressive case for abolishing the electoral college

Poll VoteBy Darrell Goodliffe

I am delighted that Ed Miliband is our new leader. One of the myths that is doing the rounds about his election is that he does not enjoy a democratic mandate. We have to stand strong against Conservative claims it was the unions wot won it; the statistics speak for themselves. Ed’s majority over the other candidates was 28,000 people and that is a democratic mandate. Trade unionists individually weighed the factors and made up their own minds; they are not drones, they are ordinary working people who have voted in accordance with their own beliefs.

We are told it’s wrong that unions recommend candidates. Why are trade unions not allowed to endorse candidates but media moguls are? Is it not the height of hypocrisy for people to complain about union endorsements and ‘instructions’ when newspapers do this at every election? Denying the unions a view is opposing democracy and denying them a voice in who leads the party they pay money to (even if they are not members of it) is wrong and anti-democratic. Although some party members may be disappointed at the result, they should think carefully before giving succour to our enemies.

Much has been made of the multiple votes the electoral college grants, however this has obscured the real democratic deficit inbuilt within it; the absurd weighting given to the Parliamentary Labour Party. Trade unionists and party members are actually severely handicapped by the electoral college, rather than advantaged or privileged by it. You could be a party member, a member of all of the unions and affiliated societies under the sun and still your vote would come nowhere near equalling that given to a Labour MP or MEP. One of these votes is worth 608 votes in the party members section of the electoral college and a staggering 12,915 votes in the affiliated unions/societies section. How can people seriously contend the electoral college is a system which gives the unions the role of kingmaker?

This is the genesis of why Ed’s victory looks so narrow in percentage terms when, as we have seen, in terms of volume of votes it was actually very wide indeed. Only by winning a staggering majority of the votes cast could Ed have realistically have won (given David’s support in the PLP) and that is exactly what happened. The Labour Party’s historical complexion as somewhere between a movement and a political party makes the continuation of the electoral college look appealing – however this this disguises the anti-democratic dominance of the PLP and its interests over the entire movement. We should also bear in mind that if any section is a subordinate then it should be this one; the representatives of the movement.

It’s time for the PLP to lose a lot of its power, to nominate and determine the leader and the policy positions. Part of the disjuncture between Labour and our voters is down to the top-heavy structure of the party which favours a body which for all its honourable exceptions is still firmly situated in the Westminster bubble.

So, the electoral college which so unfairly favours MPs and MEPs should be abolished and a system of one member, one equal vote for elections should be introduced. A new category of Labour membership should also be created of an affiliated member and this should be given automatically (with the right to opt-out if they so choose with the proviso that they lose voting rights in Labour elections) to those paying the political levy or a membership fee to an affiliated society. This would not only decrease the power of the PLP and put it in its rightful place but increase membership and draw more trade unionists and activists into our party, its campaigns and its decision making processes.

With the abolition of the electoral college, to borrow a phrase, trade unionists and party members have nothing to lose but their chains.

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