We all heard a very strong message from Labour Party members during the course of the leadership election – the need for a cultural change to help create a more unified and more tolerant party. The new leader himself has set out eight key reforms to create a “new, more inclusive, more democratic culture of dignity and respect”. In keeping with this theme, we also need to adopt the voting model that we already use to choose our leader and deputy leader for our national executive committee (NEC) elections.
The NEC is the governing body of our party, and party members get to vote directly for who will hold many of the positions on it – such as the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representatives, for which there are nine places, plus the BAME rep and the youth rep. It is currently elected using a first-past-the-post voting system.
Instead, we could use the single transferable vote (STV) system to elect Labour’s NEC. This would help us take a step back and tone down the bitter infighting into which some have descended. And we could hope for a broader representation of Labour’s broad church – not a winner-takes-all factional fight, which has been disastrous for the party.
STV is particularly well-suited to our multi-member CLP section. There is one vote, and you rank the candidates from ‘1’ until you come to the end of the preferences you want to express. It’s a little bit more work for voters but it is one-member-one-vote and a much fairer system. The act of preferencing candidates encourages members to find out more about who they are voting for and the different perspectives they want represented on the NEC. Modern online systems are also much faster than paper counts, although those who opt for paper ballots can always be accommodated.
It is one single vote with multiple ‘winning’ candidates. As with the leadership election, candidates are either successful or drop out of the running. Votes for those who drop out of the running can be transferred to other candidates.
Even if your first choice doesn’t win, your other choices can help elect the eventual successful candidates. It’s more inclusive and encourages more budding members to put themselves forward as candidates – regardless of whether they have been anointed by an organised party grouping. Candidates also break free of policy straight-jackets and rhetoric associated with factions. They have to prove themselves as individuals with the experience and drive to take on the role and, most of all, the ability to listen to members.
The recent NEC by-elections have further showed why we need this reform. The headline result that ‘Corbynsceptics sweep the board’ misses a contradicting pattern hidden in the results. Yet again, we elected NEC members but the first-past-the-post system ensured that the results didn’t really match with members votes. Labour First and Progress won 100% of the seats, with 31.2% of the vote, while Lauren Townsend, supported by Momentum and CLPD, missed out on winning a seat by just 252 votes or 0.07%.
First-past-the-post hasn’t just worked against Corbynites – it has worked against Corbynsceptics, too. In the last full NEC election, the Momentum ‘slate’ won all nine seats with less than 50% of the vote, leaving the rest of the party with no representation. Independent candidates such as Ann Black and Eddie Izzard didn’t stand a chance.
The reason for this distortion? It’s the spoiler effect: a tendency of first-past-the-post to reward united factions with a majority of the vote in a landslide victory. Over 45% of members voted for candidates from the various Labour left slates but, due to split votes, the left won zero seats. Worse still, over 20% of votes went for independent candidates not aligned with either Labour First/Progress or any Corbynite slate, rendering those 20% of votes completely wasted.
To be successful in an STV system, winning candidates must appeal to a broader base of support by seeking third, fourth and even lower voting preferences. They’d have to work harder to earn your vote, which means for successful candidates there is more accountability to a wider electorate, and a better link between the voter and their NEC representatives.
This should help reduce the worst excesses of some of the negative campaigning that we have seen take place over the years. STV is more representative, more inclusive, gives the voter more choice, and means votes matter more. This is why today Open Labour and FILE launch this campaign to get our voting system changed at the first available opportunity. Let’s use STV to elect our NEC.