Labour needs to get a grip on internal democracy ahead of NEC elections

This summer, the 500,000 strong Labour membership will once again be voting for their national executive committee (NEC) reps, and they’ll be doing it in the least democratic way possible.

Members will be provided with a list of candidates, and they will put a cross next to the nine candidates that they want to sit on the NEC – and the top nine with the most votes get elected. Whilst this may sound normal and democratic at first, it’s an electoral system that discourages independents, benefits slates, and returns nine reps that perhaps a majority of Labour members did not want.

Consider a red team, a yellow team, and a blue team. The red team gets 10,000 votes each. The yellow team get 11,000 votes each. The blue team gets 2,000 votes each. Under our current system, the yellow team wins. But everyone who voted blue would rather have red than yellow. But it’s too late, the yellow team were elected despite a majority of voters not wanting them.

Labour has adopted a number of voting systems, the most commonly used one being the Alternative Vote which is used in Labour Leadership elections. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference and if no candidate reaches 50% of votes in the first round, the bottom candidate is eliminated and then their second preference votes are redistributed. This happens until a candidate reaches 50% of the vote. This is how we should also be approaching Labour NEC elections.

Enter the Single Transferable Vote (STV) – a multi-member system that allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference, specifically designed to elect a number of positions. There are 2 positions available. Depending on the number of votes cast, there would be a threshold that candidates had to reach in order to be elected. Imagine this is 10,000 votes. In practice, it would look like this:

Red team – 11,000
Blue team – 9,000
Pink team – 8000
Yellow team – 7500
Green team – 7000

The red team has more than 10,000 votes and is automatically elected. But they have 1,000 more votes than they need. So these 1000 votes are redistributed based on the second preferences.

Red team – ELECTED
Blue team – 9,000
Pink team – 8,000 + 500 (from Red team surplus) = 8,500
Yellow team – 7500 + 250 (from Red team surplus) = 7,750
Green team – 7000 + 250 (from Red team surplus) = 7,250

No other team received enough votes to hit the threshold and there’s no more votes from elected teams to distribute, so we eliminate the bottom candidate and redistribute their votes. Green team is eliminated.

Red team – ELECTED
Blue team – 9,000 + 500 (surplus from eliminated green team) = 9,500
Pink team – 8,500 + 5,500 (surplus from eliminated green team) = 14,000
Yellow team – 7,750 + 1,750 (surplus from eliminated green team) = 9,500
Green team – ELIMINATED

Achieving over the number of votes required (10,000), the Pink team have taken the second position to be elected. Under the current system, the Blue team would have been elected alongside the Red team as they received the second largest number of votes in the first round – but allowing voters to have preferences means that an unpopular candidate who was not supported by a majority of the voters was not elected. This is how STV works – it delivers the most favoured candidates across the whole membership, not just the most popular with a loud but minority group.

Much of internal Labour voting is done online, and would not take additional time to carry out, although for the votes submitted by post, there could be a small delay whilst votes are reallocated as candidates are elected or eliminated.

It might seem complicated before reading it, but it is simple – so simple that it’s used already in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Malta and Scotland.

This way, power truly does get put into the hands of the members and not heavily determined by slates. Members would get a real choice about who they wanted, knowing that they can rank them in order of preference. It means all wings of the party could get some representation. It empowers independents because they can campaign for second preferences even from those who loyally support a faction within the party.

We claim to be a democratic party. We use AV in internal elections where we elect one person. It’s time our NEC was elected using a fair and equal system.

Kerri Prince is a council candidate in Hillingdon and works in Parliament.


More from LabourList

Donate to fund our journalism


Subscribe to our Daily Email