Labour set to decide on switch to preferential voting for NEC elections

Sienna Rodgers

Labour’s ruling body is set to decide whether it should switch to a preferential voting system for electing local party representatives on the national executive committee (NEC).

At a meeting on Tuesday, NEC members will discuss the idea of scrapping the first-past-the-post system for choosing its nine CLP reps and replacing it with the single transferable vote (STV) method.

The NEC is being urged to approve the change by groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, and over 500 party members have signed an open letter in favour of the move to STV.

The letter was organised by Fair Internal Labour Elections (FILE) and soft-left group Open Labour. The push for Labour to adopt STV in more elections has long been a demand of the party’s soft left.

Commenting ahead of the meeting, Tom Laing, founder of FILE, said: “The winner-takes-all nature of the NEC at the moment promotes hyper factionalism. But with STV we can ensure a pluralistic Labour, where the proud traditions of our movement can always be heard.”

In a comment piece for LabourList today, Labour MP Clive Lewis described STV as “no silver bullet” but a “good ‘routine’ that encourages a culture of cooperation and consensus building”.

Sam Tarry MP said: “Labour shouldn’t model its elections on Westminster’s broken system… We can move forward united, with more democracy, and less division, by bringing NEC elections into line with our other internal elections.”

Alex Sobel MP added: “STV will give legitimacy to NEC members as under FPTP you can be elected on a low percentage. It also creates a more open culture because you need to appeal broadly to attract transfers.”

Neal Lawson, chair of think tank Compass, said the switch would “put Labour’s values of political equality into practice”, “secure fair representation for all members” and “build a more inclusive culture”.

Joe Sousek, of Make Votes Matter and Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, commented: “Labour has an opportunity to lead the UK towards a new democracy fit for the 21st century – and adopting a fair system for its own elections would be a hugely symbolic first step on this journey.”

Politics for the Many’s Lynn Henderson pointed out: “Labour ensured the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments, London Assembly, mayoral votes, local elections in Scotland and more use proportional or preferential voting.”

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, also backed the move, which he said would “boost Labour’s authority on issues of democracy”. He described STV as a “tried-and-tested system that gives voters a strong voice and real choice”.

The ERS head said: “It’s great to see this consensus for fair representation moving forward. Labour already uses preferential voting for its leadership elections, so bringing the NEC into harmony with this would give members confidence their vote will always count.”

Angela Rayner committed to the reform during her deputy leadership campaign, and Keir Starmer is thought to have agreed to it. If the issue goes to a vote on the NEC, it is expected to secure a majority in favour.

Advocates on the soft left have argued that over 45% voted for candidates from the Labour left in the recent NEC by-elections, yet only Corbynsceptic candidates were successful in the contests.

However, there is not consensus among Labour’s NEC members on the proposal, with the opposition largely coming from the left. One member against the move said it was “factional” of Starmer.

LabourList has spoken to another Labour left NEC member who said they were “not against STV” but would like to see it introduced for other sections – such as equalities and parliamentary party reps.

It has been suggested by STV advocates that the Parliamentary Labour Party standing orders could be amended so that its NEC reps are also elected using the preferential system.

Labour’s NEC is also set to discuss arrangements for party conference, which is supposed to held in September, and the next round of NEC elections, due to take place this summer.

LabourList has been told by NEC sources that the idea of a virtual conference has been raised, but the main event will probably have to be delayed due to coronavirus.

Covid-19 rules on distancing may still be in place in September, and local parties have not had the chance to meet over recent months to nominate NEC candidates or pass motions for conference.

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