Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Labour ponders shooting itself in the other foot

I’ve said it before, but reality unaccountably failed to bend to my will, so as it’s in the news again I’ll say it again.

Labour’s electoral college for choosing its leader means there can be a split result (party members voting one way but union members and/or MPs voting more strongly the other way), and a new leader can come to office facing jeers of ‘you’re the choice of the unions, your own party members didn’t want you’. This is what happened to Ed Miliband and it’s embarrassing.

Now there are moves afoot to give the wider public a say in leadership elections, by allowing them to register as supporters for free:

How registered supporters could be involved in leadership elections will not be detailed tomorrow, but [Peter] Hain said they could be given their own section in the electoral college of MPs, individual members and affiliates.

Please, no. The party should scrap the electoral college and have everyone’s vote going into the same pot. Otherwise the risk of embarrassment will grow.

Making a big show of reaching out to members of the public who are not normally into party politics is fine. But if they’re going to be given a say in party elections, it will risk looking terrible if they can then be outvoted.

Don’t put the party in a position where a future leader can come to office facing the even more embarrassing jeers of ‘you’re the choice of the party machine, the public didn’t want you’.

1 comment:

Phil said...

The Democratic Party in Italy adopted (and as far as I know still has) a tortuously complex system to allow sympathisers a voice in leadership elections. In round one, the contenders address MPs and councillors at a special conference, giving them a chance to mobilise support within the party; they then have a postal vote of party members. Round two is thrown open to, potentially, everyone in the country, although in order to vote you have to turn up at a voting booth and pay a token fee (1 euro). If one candidate has an overall majority at this stage, [s]he's elected; if not, there is another special conference open to all party members, and the issue is somehow decided there.

The risk is that Mr Machine Politician will win the party members' vote, Mr Telegenic will win the general public vote, and the third stage will consist of both of them trying to cut a deal with Mr Eternal Runner-Up. What actually happened when they elected their current leader was that (to many people's surprise) Mr Machine Politician (aka Pier Luigi Bersani) won the first round and the second, so the problem didn't arise. But the potential for the kind of embarrassment you describe is immense.