What a mess – the Labour leadership election

A lot of fellow Liberals, and indeed those from right across the political spectrum, will share my view that the current Labour Party leadership election has descended into farce.

The question is how and why did they come up with such a basket case of an electoral system.

Why not use a simple one member one vote system?

For the answer you have to go back more than thirty years to 1980 when the Labour leader was elected by the parliamentary party alone.

Following the disastrous Callaghan administration, the big unions wanted their say in choosing the Labour leader. At a conference in which they had 90% of the votes, they made sure they got it.

An electoral college was introduced with 40% of the vote reserved for unions which could be cast as block votes for their preferred candidate.

Over time this method came under pressure from both a hostile media and a New Labour leadership, determined to reduce union influence, but still get their much needed cash.

The negative publicity generated by the attempts of the Unite Union to get their nominee selected as the candidate in Falkirk, forced a panicked Ed Miliband to react.

However, like all his predecessors, he came up with a fudge that looked a bit like OMOV, but wasn’t.

He may well have wanted real reform, but wasn’t brave enough to completely exclude union votes.

The result is that the unions are still going to have a very big big say in who is the next Labour leader. By signing up registered supporters, the votes of their members will most likely be decisive just as they were when Ed was elected 5 years ago.

The other ironic twist is that the candidate who only made the ballot at the last minute (with the nominations of MPs who clearly weren’t supporting him), could now very well win!

I am so happy to be in a party that can conduct a free, fair and open leadership election.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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45 Comments

  • If we are to concern ourselves with the Labour election, which we should not, then I would advise we do not appear somewhat smug and holier than thou. Over the past few years the scandals and apparent sexism in this party at top level has been nothing to be proud of, and dare I say it neither was some of the negative campaigning from one camp in our own election.

  • Hove Howard 24th Aug '15 - 2:09pm

    All a bit churlish when one considers that the Labour leadership election is likely to attract at least ten times the participation levels of the Lib Dem one, and several hundred times the media interest and coverage of the Farron/Greybloke yawnfest.

    The ‘mess’ and ‘chaos’ is mostly in the minds of Labour’s establishment, who don’t like having their boat rocked. I wouldn’t tick all of Cobyn’s boxes, but really – what’s not to like about that?

  • Another article about Labour – on the day when IDS has launched another attack on the disabled and the mentally I’ll! This is clearly what Tim Farron meant when he said Lib Dems are now “the only party of opposition ” ! Sigh!

    Just when I think you are heading back to being decent and principled again, you behave in the same old way as the last five years! Ignoring the Tories nasty policies and focussing on Labour. You do realise it’s the Tories you are meant to be opposing?!

  • The media sets the pace and style of elections. The BBC does sometimes dabble with balance but usually caves in to those with power – i.e. the PM in particular. The Lib Dems were usually left out of political discussions during the coalition years because the PM organised our non-involvement as we were in his government – and not the part which should be heard. Note too, the side-lining of Nick during the election, in which we often had no voice at all. This is not just LDs being naive – it was an orchestrated programme of silencing an important political party – which the BBC signed up to and is therefore not a balanced reporter.

    The BBC is now feverishly promoting Corbyn because they hope he will wreck the Labour party and thus the BBC will gain the PM’s blessing and save their license fees. What’s not to know about political maneuvering?

  • Andrew Ducker 24th Aug ’15 – 2:06pm …………I’m confused……………….

    Me, too.

    I thought, under under the reformed rules adopted from the proposals of the February 2014 Collins report the electoral college was replaced by a pure “one member, one vote” (OMOV) system.

    and, according to Wiki….”Candidates will be elected by members and registered and affiliated supporters, who all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes will be weighted equally. This means that, for example, members of Labour-affiliated trade unions will have needed to register as Labour supporters in order to vote.”

  • paul barker 24th Aug '15 - 3:17pm

    Well, no, you have to go back to 1900. Labour was formed as a movement uniting the splintered Left & The Unions with The Co-op added in the twenties. For the 1st decade there was no such thing as Labour membership – to belong you had to join one of the affiliates, Restricting the vote to members would in effect abolish The Labour Party as it exists now. The current rules are a bit of a mess but in some ways go back to Labours roots – probably affiliation for Socialist Societies will be widened to include the whole range of The Left as it was before the 1920s. Although the £3 voters were a Blairite idea, copied from The US – they do fit with the original 1900 model which included everyone from Marxists to Occultists & New Agers of all sorts.
    The new Corbynite Labour could well attract a lot of support at the beginning, hoovering up protest votes across the spectrum – it could damage UKIP as well as The Greens & us. We certainly cant compete on Corbyns territory – we are held back by actually caring about the results of our actions.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 3:26pm

    Tony Rowan-Wicks 24th Aug ’15 – 2:47pm Please do not shoot the messenger. The BBC did once have a journalist who wanted to report good news, but he did not get very far. We need to provide them with news, which, in the current context, means getting out on the doorsteps and winning elections as they come up.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 3:29pm

    paul barker 24th Aug ’15 – 3:17pm Do you think there will be fratricide among the brotherhood?

  • paul barker 24th Aug '15 - 3:44pm

    @Richard Underhill. Not literally I hope but the atmosphere on Labour sites is already pretty nasty. Lots of Labour cenrists are planning resistance but they disagree on what to do & experience suggests they will make a complete mess of whatever they decide. I expect mismanaged “Coups” & splits & defections. It will all be very messy.

  • paul barker 24th Aug ’15 – 3:44pm ……………..@Richard Underhill. Not literally I hope but the atmosphere on Labour sites is already pretty nasty. Lots of Labour cenrists are planning resistance but they disagree on what to do & experience suggests they will make a complete mess of whatever they decide. I expect mismanaged “Coups” & splits & defections. It will all be very messy…………..

    I don’t visit any Labour sites but it sounds as if you’re predicting mass exodus of support…Perhaps their support might even fall into single figures, eh?

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 5:18pm

    paul barker 24th Aug ’15 – 3:44pm Not literally I hope.
    Incidentally it was careless of me to exclude females. Although outnumbered by males there are a proportion of violent prisoners sentenced to life for offences up to and including murder. Some of the most famous lifers are / were female.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 5:22pm

    expats 24th Aug ’15 – 4:37pm
    i am not predicting numbers, but the nature of the first-past-the-post election system makes winning difficult .
    i recall an election in which there was an Official Labour and a Real Labour candidate.
    It was won by a young liberal barrister called Simon Hughes who continued as an MP, despite boundary changes and fluctuations in party support, until 2015.

  • David Warren, Perhaps you can explain, ” a fudge that looked a bit like OMOV, but wasn’t.”?

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 5:48pm

    expats 24th Aug ’15 – 5:42pm ” … a fudge that looked a bit like OMOV, but wasn’t.”
    Perhaps he meant that Labour still has a multi-class system. All are equal, but some are more equal than others.

  • David Warren 24th Aug '15 - 5:48pm

    It is not an OMOV election.

    Union members are not necessarily members of the Labour party or even supporters of it.

    The big unions are going to decide this election by effectively marshalling their members to vote for one candidate.

    Labour is in crisis and that is why I am other Lib Dems are focusing on them.

    If we are to replace them as a centre left alternative to the Tories [which is what I want] we have to highlight what they are actually about.

  • of course it is a shambles buit they only have themselves to blame. Many have said that the leadership candidates dont even seem to know how it works. Of course they will have to amend the system and that will not be easy. The problem is that the Labour party is creating news of the wrong type for them whilst the Tories are getting away with removing all the blocks put in by the Lib Dems..
    For those who think Lib Dem Voice contributors are making so much of these matters, perhaps it is because they recall that Labour spent 5 years attacking Lib Dems but funked the Welfare Bill test.

  • Peter Watson 24th Aug '15 - 6:00pm

    @David Warren “If we are to replace them [Labour] as a centre left alternative to the Tories [which is what I want] we have to highlight what they are actually about.”
    Surely a better first step would be for the Lib Dems to be a centre left party.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 6:01pm

    Andy Burnham MP is on Radio 5 Live tomorrow.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Aug '15 - 6:05pm

    richard underhill “Incidentally it was careless of me to exclude females.”
    Now, siblings, I think we should pass a resolution expressing support for the selfless action Brian is taking at this time…

  • Ed Shepherd 24th Aug '15 - 6:07pm

    “The big unions are going to decide this election by effectively marshalling their members to vote for one candidate.”
    But only if you think those union members will just vote in the way that they are told. Perhaps, union members are just as capable of making their own choices as anyone else. Is there any evidence that union members are more gullible than most people? My experience is that most union members are better informed about politics and more independent minded than most people.

  • Bob Sayer “The problem is that the Labour party is creating news of the wrong type for them whilst the Tories are getting away with removing all the blocks put in by the Lib Dems..”

    Then why not try criticising the Tories for that? After all Tim says you are ” the only party of opposition” so do try opposing!

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Aug '15 - 6:09pm

    I think one reason for Labour’s decision to open up the contest to non-members can be explained by the relatively expensive cost of Labour membership – roughly 45 quid for non students (I recognise that there are various discounts I don’t entirely understand and whose criteria sound, um, malleable — but maybe it’s just that Labour’s website is badly written).

    Contrast with our “it’s £12 for almost everyone – if possible we would like you to think about paying £70 but we can’t make you” approach.

    I think if I were a Labour apparatchik I would be more concerned about the anecdotal and erratic vetting process than the idea of including ‘supporters’ per se.

    There have been some interesting experiments in incuding non-members in party selectoin processes in recent history, starting with the Tories (Sarah Wollaston being the most notable beneficiary), going on with Zac Goldsmith’s survey on whether consitutents supported him standing for mayor of London, and there should be an honourable mention for Carswell and Reckless forcing byelections to ratify them as UKIP MPs (although that’s not quite the same thing); and of course Carwell was an architect of the Sarah Wollaston ‘open primary’ process.

    I think the thing is, Labour process is not a ‘primary’. The primary election is by the MP nomination process. The supporters are being allowed in at the ‘final’ stage.

    It would be sad if Labour’s botched approach ruins the period of experimentation.

    It would be interesting if a party in the UK uses something more like the USA ‘regional primary’ approach to select its leader:
    – After securing nominations from MPs, there is a vote in both the party membership and supportership divided by regions of the UK.
    – Each candidate needs to secure x per cent of the vote in at least x number of regions as a minimum to progress to the final stage.
    – At the final stage, the remaining candidates (if more than 1) are voted on by the membership only, not the supportership.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug ’15 – 5:48pm…….expats 24th Aug ’15 – 5:42pm ” … a fudge that looked a bit like OMOV, but wasn’t.”
    Perhaps he meant that Labour still has a multi-class system. All are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    In other words, “It is OMOV but we mustn’t admit it”

  • David Warren 24th Aug '15 - 8:04pm

    @Peter Watson

    I and many others are working to ensure that the Lib Dems return to the centre left where they were for many years prior to the Clegg period.

    The signs are that we are starting that process

    @Ed Shepherd

    Union recommendations for Ed Miliband which in turn became votes were crucial in getting him elected.

    As an active trade unionist over many years I witnessed numerous elections where the vast majority of members followed the recommendation of their leaders in voting for the favoured candidate.

    This was usually achieved by spending money on sending individual mailings to home addresses.

    Yes some will make their own choice but it will they will I predict be a minority.

  • Warrington Dave 24th Aug '15 - 8:12pm

    Labour is in disarray primarily because there are three factions warring for control of the party – the Blairite (dare I say “corporatist”) faction, the more centrist social democrats and the traditional socialists (in reality Corbyn appears to be more of a Nordic style Social Democrat, than an outright Marxist). It is fighting an identity crisis which will shape the very future of it.

    Having said that the Liberal Democrats have an identity crisis of their own, are they economic liberals, economic social democrats or economic corporatists?

    Lets take three issues – Railways. State ownership? Private (and often foreign owned state) monopoly outsourcing, or a mass of private open access operators competing on set paths? What is the actual Lib Dem view on this?

    Prisons – State run or handed over to G4S / Serco (very unlikely many other firms have the funds to run them) ?

    Water – State ownership or run by a single foreign owned corporation or some form of private competition?

    I have no idea where the Lib Dems stand on these issues, and I suspect the members have varying degrees of opinion too.

  • @Hove Howard
    “All a bit churlish when one considers that the Labour leadership election is likely to attract at least ten times the participation levels of the Lib Dem one”

    Just to put some numbers on that :-

    33,897 people voted in the Lib Dem leadership election
    338,374 people voted in Labour’s 2010 leadership election
    610,753 people are registered to vote in Labour’s current election

    I thought many Lib Dems were supposed to be all in favour of mass participation in the political process, so how strange it is that they are so dismissive of what is clearly the most impressive such exercise in recent political history – apparently, at least in the OP’s case, because they don’t consider the 190,000 affiliated members to be real people in some sense – just sheep told what to do by union leaders.

  • David Warren

    As an active trade unionist over many years I witnessed numerous elections where the vast majority of members followed the recommendation of their leaders in voting for the favoured candidate.

    This was usually achieved by spending money on sending individual mailings to home addresses.”

    I’m in scary Red Len’s Unite and I can assure you that I have had only 2 letters from them that have mentioned this leadership contest.

    Yes, they recommended voting Corbyn with Burnham as 2nd preference but they have no power to compel people to vote in any specific way & in fact I didn’t do their bidding – that’s the beauty of having a mind of my own !

    @Phyllis
    “Another article about Labour – on the day when IDS has launched another attack on the disabled and the mentally I’ll! This is clearly what Tim Farron meant when he said Lib Dems are now “the only party of opposition ” ! Sigh!”

    Well said ! Interesting isn’t it how any anti-Labour piece gathers many more comments than a LibDem piece – it’s almost like CIF. The one above, ‘Tim talks’ has only 6 comments !

  • Alisdair McGregor 25th Aug '15 - 8:42am

    The Labour farce is precisely why I don’t support the OMOV proposals at conference. It can hardly have escaped attention that you can become a LibDem member for £1/month, which with the short duration of our leadership elections and conferences means entryism will be cheaper and easier than it has been for the £3 supporters for Labour.

  • Paul Kennedy 25th Aug '15 - 8:44am

    I would make three observations:

    1. As an encouragement to ‘join’ the Labour party as a supporter, the process appears to be a great success.

    2. The problem is the vetting process, which seems to be haphazard and without clear criteria, letting in cats and Tories, but excluding former Labour members who fell out with the Blair Government. There does appear to be an anti-Corbyn bias to the decisions being made.

    If the result is close, including potentially the contest for second place between Cooper (who is favourite to come second but would almost certainly lose against Corbyn in the final round as many Burnham supporters would then transfer to Corbyn) and Burnham (less likely to come second but might stand a chance against Corbyn), this could well leave the result open to challenge,

    I suspect Labour might even have been better off saying they would let anyone vote who is (a) real (b) claims to support the party, regardless of background.

    3. We need to be continually mindful of our own process, in effect letting in anyone who self-certifies as a student and pays £1.

  • On the Radio 4 Today programme, the presenter referred to a senior Lib Dem joining the Labour Party ” to cause mischief”. That’s the state, and the perception, of the Lib Dems right now : people who prefer to spend their time ‘ causing mischief’ rather than criticising the Tories.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Aug '15 - 9:38am

    In the meantime, Caroline Lucas has opened up the possibility of a progressive alliance if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership.

    Given that some of what he proposes is in line with what some Liberals also believe to be progressive, why is Liberal Democrat Voice so overwhelmingly negative?

    The owners of our press have every reason to be worried about a Jeremy Corbyn surge in support. Someone on Liberal Democrat Voice mentioned the lack of column inches generated by Tim Farron’s views. I would have thought that this was part of the same phenomenon of undermining or crowding out politicians who might pose a threat to the status quo which currently works in their favour. For reasons of self -interest alone, I think that Tim and others should acknowledge the progressive things that Jeremy Corbyn is proposing and the fact that many Liberals agree with some of them.

    In the meantime, with splintered opposition, the most right wing tory government in my lifetime are destroying our society.

  • Phyllis..causing mischief rather than criticising the tories
    Where have you been Lib Dem voice had reams of attacks on the Tories as they demolished the barriers placed by Lib Dems. Labour in the meantime decided to self inflict wounds and self flagellate whilst the Tories laughed and continued to create increasing poverty…but of course to Labour the Welfare Bill was a chance to show togetherness and let it through. Mr Corbyn joined Lib Dems in opposition, but please show me Phyllis where the senior labour clique are opposing Tory cuts and diminution of services. You really must get your head out of the sand.

  • Bob Sayer never mind Labour, haven’t you heard? the Lib Dems are now ” the only party of opposition” according to your Leader. So far, haven’t seen much criticism of the Tories apart from one belated article on here by Paul W, after TWO negative articles about Labour, one gloating about the schoolboy antics of Stephen Tall joining the Labour Party. Labour are not in power it’s pointless attacking them. Aim your fire where it is needed please. Being ‘mischievous’ is not endearing, it’s just puerile.

  • David Warren 25th Aug '15 - 10:19am

    @MartinB

    Ok you do have a mind of your own.

    However figures show that recommendations are followed, in my old union is was usually around 90% voting for the recommended candidate.

    My original point was that union voters act in a different way to party members.

    The former are unlikely to be Labour activists and they have an organisation i.e. their union which they listen to.

  • Nick Tregoning 25th Aug '15 - 10:25am

    @Phyllis
    Happy to criticise the Conservative Party as it happens, and have never stopped doing so whenever I think they are wrong. Perhaps you could explain:-
    1) Why Labour should not be criticised in the same manner?
    2) I live in Wales. Labour govern Wales. Surely some opposition of Labour is therefore permissible?

  • Nick Tregoning

    No-one is saying there should be no criticism of Labour but the coverage is hugely skewed. We get that LDV don’t like Labour or the SNP but it’s the Tories who are in power and doing huge damage to the country. You as ” the only party of opposition” are not doing your job if you let the Tories off as lightly as you do. And the coverage of Labour is usually mocking and puerile rather than actually criticising Labour policies in a grown-up way. I haven’t seen anything here describing Labour’s policies in Wales. But if you’d like to write a piece I’m sure we’d all be interested.

    But please remember it’s the Tories who are damaging the country.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Aug '15 - 10:59am

    @ Bob Sayer,
    What barriers? Some if us who have never wished the Liberal Democratic Party ill, are unconvinced that the leadership of the Liberal Democrats did anything other than play into the chameleon David Cameron’s hands. He was still in his detoxification phase, hugging huskies and hoodies. It is still may opinion that you helped provide ballast for his more liberal wing of the party in his struggle against an unelectable right wing as he tried to prove to the electorate that he was the ‘heir to Blair’.

    He wanted to be Prime Minister because he thought he would be good at it. If I negotiated with my builders the way the little that the Liberal democrats negotiated with a power hungry man, blamed by his right wing for not achieving an overall majority because he hadn’t been right wing enough, I would be a much poorer women.

    If anyone has their head in the sand, it is those Liberal Democrats who believe that they should be praised rather than criticised for what the party enabled, for praising the austerity measures, for creating chaos in our health service and yes, for teaching our young people who were intending to vote for the first time that one should never trust a politician.

    In my opinion, Tim will have a much higher mountain to climb until some members of the party ‘get it’.

  • Nick Tregoning 25th Aug ’15 – 10:25am ………………………..@Phyllis… Happy to criticise the Conservative Party as it happens, and have never stopped doing so whenever I think they are wrong. Perhaps you could explain:-
    1) Why Labour should not be criticised in the same manner? 2) I live in Wales. Labour govern Wales. Surely some opposition of Labour is therefore permissible?…………

    Perhaps it’s me but there seems to be a ratio of 4 or 5 to 1 harping on about Labour’s ‘mess’ than criticising an increasingly right wing Tory government….For a new LibDem leader Tim seems to be getting very little attention on here (comments in single figures) unless he’s having a dig at Labour when, suddenly, lots of interest….

    Again, perhaps I’m old fashioned, but Corbyn’s election doesn’t signal the end of the world to me; in fact, his proposed re-nationalisation of Railways/utilities, ending of the Trident farce, talking to terrorists (future leaders), etc. strike me as sensible policies that we could support. After all, a few months ago, Iran was (like Libya before it) part of the axis of evil. Today we are talking, whilst Libya ( where we didn’t talk) is only famous for ‘people trafficking’…

    BTW… David Warren, I’m still waiting to your explanation of how Labour’s process is a ‘fudge’ and not OMOV?…

  • Chris Randall 25th Aug '15 - 11:07am

    Don’t laugh to much this could have been ours had it have gone on as long, this campaign time is what is making ng it worse.

  • oh, come on everyone! Of course people are interested in the Labour leadership election which has big implications for the future political landscape… Most people on here are political hacks, after all.

    Meanwhile we all got a huge dose of what Tim Farron thinks in our own leadership election and debated it endlessly on these pages – hardly surprising that his views do not get much comment now!

    I do agree that we should be paying more attention to what the Tories are up to, which is mostly pretty bad. Labour were very foolish to drag their election out for so long…

  • @ Phyllis
    OK, let’s address Labour on policies. Shall we start with Welfare Reform? To whom should we speak; Corbyn, Kendall? You can’t have a policy debate with a vacuum.

    More seriously, this debacle will render Labour much less electable in 2020 than they were in 2015. This has serious implications for progressive politics. As regards Tim’s impact, why would the media report on that when they can have a field day with Labour. You really couldn’t make this up, and the media don’t have to.

    I am sure Tim will have an impact, but not while all this is going on. The conference will probably be the first opportunity.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Aug '15 - 5:15pm

    @ AndrewMcC,
    I don’t agree that we (or indeed the wider public) know Tim Farron’s views. There are important issues that we need to know.

    Take the subject, illegal immigration. Cameron is now arguing for more draconian punishments for those who employ illegal immigrants and for the illegal immigrants themselves. ( probably his current immigration policies are not working and he thinks the answer is to look even tougher -its the tory way). As someone who was appalled by the ‘GO Home’ vans , what has Tim got to say about this? What is the Liberal Democrat position?

    I have little sympathy for illegal immigrants and argued on here against an amnesty, it was one element of the last manifesto that I was opposed to, but what the coalition ‘Go Home Vans’ did, was make legal immigrants who looked different, feel insecure and vulnerable. The sort of targeting that I suspect will take place will do likewise.

    There is plenty to debate about panicky David Cameron’s actions , rather than Labour’s woes, of which we are all now aware.

  • David Warren 25th Aug '15 - 6:42pm

    @expats

    The system being used by Labour is a fudge and not OMOV because non party members get a vote.

    Political levy payers and registered supporters are not Labour members.

    The Lib Dem leadership election was OMOV because you had to be a party member to vote.

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