He [Ed Miliband] also wants to change Labour's culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour's electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes.
The problem with an electoral college such as Labour’s is that it can give split results. We had one this year, allowing critics to say (correctly) that Miliband wasn’t wanted by the members of his own party. A little embarrassing.
The way to avoid this is to abolish the electoral college, not to increase the number of sections.
We could let MPs keep their special role in nominating candidates, but beyond that it would be better to have a single electorate of equals. We could do this by restricting the franchise to party members only; we could have party members plus union members who choose to pay an affiliation fee – but treated as a single bloc (perhaps by simply giving the union supporters standard party membership for their fee).
Or we could set up a register of party supporters, potentially a millions-strong section of the public, who would then vote for the leader. But please, let’s not make these people into a new category in the electoral college. That would just magnify the problem that embarrassed Ed Miliband.
Not only would it mean that the party membership could still have its verdict outweighed by that of union members (and/or MPs); it would also mean that the registered supporters, who had signed up to join a new era of mass democracy, could find their verdict outweighed by the other, smaller, established sections. The other parties would crow that the ‘old politics’ had triumphed, and the press would merrily sneer that the party machine had crushed the public voice.
And the new leader would start his or her job by having to explain why this didn’t really matter.