Are there any patterns in the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations to date?
Because we don’t have any accurate polling data on members’ voting intentions, the only indicator we have for telling which candidates have momentum in the leadership election is the number of CLPs nominating them.
At the moment only 209 out of over 600 CLPs have nominated. Some won’t bother – the two large Oxford CLPs (where I live) don’t because they take a view that they have a politically diverse membership and taking a collective position would be divisive. Some very small CLPs are moribund and don’t get their act together to meet and nominate. But many will nominate in the next two weeks. Scottish CLPs seem to have nominated earlier than others because of their own leadership election.
In some CLPs there is a big debate at a well attended meeting with all the candidates’ merits discussed. At others the MP or a senior CLP officer suggests the candidate who they want to be backed and there is no debate. Some CLPs hold All Member Meetings, some still use a branch delegate-based General Meeting structure.
It’s a moot point whether people who attend meetings to nominate are to the left of the wider armchair membership because they are more “activist” and motivated (the old view that inspired the push for One Member One Vote in the 1990s) or to their right as they are more likely to be established members used to the views of swing voters on the doorstep and the pragmatic compromises of running local councils.
The individual CLP nominations are, like the final ballot, based not on First Past the Post but on transferable voting – technically an eliminating ballot. Assuming the CLP is following the rules! The pattern of transfers gives us some idea of how members may transfer in the final ballot. Anecdotal evidence is that Kendall supporters transfer fairly uniformly to Cooper, and Cooper supporters to Burnham, but Corbyn supporters are more split between Cooper and Burnham on their second preferences, and Burnham supporters more split between Cooper and Corbyn. The nomination system inevitably exaggerates the weakness of the lower ranked candidates as the votes they garnered while losing CLPs aren’t measurable in the table of nominations.
We don’t have accurate figures on who came second in each CLP, though some of this is available anecdotally. This is significant because if Yvette Cooper, for instance, was second in many of the CLPs Corbyn won and many that Burnham won (which is exactly what people are saying happened), she might be ahead in the popular vote nationwide but not getting the traction in terms of nominations won.
The headline figures as of Sunday night were Corbyn 70, Burnham 69, Cooper 58, Kendall 12.
But what are the patterns beneath this? Even if they don’t tell us who will win the leadership they do tell us about the internal politics of the Labour Party and the mood of activists who go to meetings – the same people we rely on to campaign. They are therefore worthy of study in their own right.
Some of the patterns are long term – e.g. the factionalisation between left and right poles of inner London CLPs, the relative lack of strength of the left in the West Midlands. There are some CLPs whose leadership nominations can be predicted based on their NEC and other lower order election nominations, sometimes reflecting a factional allegiance to left or right that would enable you to predict who they are voting for now based on NEC voting patterns in the 1950s or before. Other CLPs change as new generations of activists come on board e.g. most of Liverpool is now aligned with the right when in the 1980s it was the heartland of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency.
First, are there regional patterns?:
London – Corbyn 10, Kendall 10, Cooper 5, Burnham 4
South East – Burnham 5, Cooper 5, Corbyn 4
South West – Corbyn 9, Cooper 7, Burnham 4, Kendall 1
East – Corbyn 7, Cooper 6, Burnham 1
East Midlands – Corbyn 6, Cooper 5, Burnham 2
West Midlands – Burnham 7, Cooper 4, Corbyn 2
North West – Burnham 16, Corbyn 5, Cooper 4
Yorkshire – Corbyn 6, Burnham 5, Cooper 3
North East – Burnham 7, Corbyn 6 Cooper 2, Kendall 1
Wales – Corbyn 5, Cooper 4, Burnham 3, Kendall 1
Scotland – Burnham 14, Cooper 10, Corbyn 10, Kendall 1
Northern Ireland (single CLP) – Burnham 1
Some patterns are obvious. Burnham is disproportionately strong in his home North West region (which has the highest membership outside London), as he was in 2010, and also the North East and Scotland, but weaker in all the southern regions including London where 20% of the members are. Cooper appears strongest in the south outside London and the Midlands where some of her key supporters are MPs or were candidates. Corbyn is strongest in his own region, London, where there is the strong machine associated with Ken Livingstone, and in the South West which also polls heavily for the left in NEC nominations. 8 of Kendall’s 12 nominations are from London CLPs that are heavily plugged into Progress at a national level.
Second, I divided the CLPs that have nominated into three crude categories: core seats Labour holds now, marginal seats Labour won in 1997 or subsequently but has now lost, and probably unwinnable seats Labour couldn’t win in 1997 or any subsequent election. This produces the following breakdown:
Burnham: 48% core, 33% marginal, 20% unwinnable
Cooper: 29% core, 33% marginal, 38% unwinnable
Corbyn: 39% core, 34% marginal, 27% unwinnable
Kendall: 58% core, 8% marginal, 33% unwinnable
This is fascinating as there is such a clear pattern of Kendall and Burnham disproportionately picking up their support in areas that already have a Labour MP, and Cooper the opposite. This could be explained by the former two being good at translating MP nominations into CLP ones, or it could be that Cooper’s image plays well to CLPs that are considering what might appeal to non-Labour voters.
Finally I looked at CLP size, using the membership figures published in 2010. Whilst there has been considerable membership growth since then the ratios will broadly be the same, the biggest CLPs are usually the same ones, they just get even bigger when the membership grows, as there are certain demographic groups (Guardian reader middle classes, Asian communities, students) with a high propensity to join Labour. I wanted to test whether any of the campaigns was gaming the nomination system by picking up lots of easy to win nominations from small rural CLPs. I was not able to include Scotland in these figures as since 2010 the party moved from organising on Westminster to Holyrood boundaries, but in any case Scotland has a very low membership.
These are the figures by total 2010 membership of English and Welsh CLPs nominating the candidate:
Corbyn 19,574 (36.3%)
Burnham 15,656 (29.0%)
Cooper 13,518 (25.1%)
Kendall 5,212 (9.7%)
This suggests that the relative strength of Corbyn in the big London CLPs and Burnham’s weakness there means Corbyn’s lead may be stronger than the raw nomination figures suggest, that the gap between Burnham and Cooper may be a bit smaller, and that Kendall whilst still in a weak fourth place is doing a bit better and her transfers may have a critical impact on the outcome – they could easily put Cooper ahead of Burnham and then Cooper would probably best Corbyn in the final run-off.