Thursday, 30 January 2014

Labour in Wonderland

Alan Johnson, the former Labour minister, hits the nail on the head in this article from the Guardian in which he describes the Labour Party's internal democracy as - "OMMV (one member, multiple votes) and NMOV (non-member, one vote)."

Thanks to the crazy electoral college system which is all about giving special privileges to a handful of union bosses - the party's present leaders (Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont) have failed to win the support of a majority of Labour Party members.

Both have the support of trade union bosses to thank for their respective 'victories' which, if you stop and think about it, is like something out of Alice in Wonderland - with the Mad Hatter in charge as the returning officer.   

Alan Johnson calls for radical reform of Labour-union link

Former minister says party must rewrite leadership election rules and reduce size of union vote at upcoming party conference

By Patrick Wintour, political editor

Alan Johnson, the former cabinet minister, with Ed Miliband in 2011. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Labour must reform its leadership election rules and reduce the size of the union vote at its upcoming party conference or else look "as if it is prepared to tackle everybody else's problems except our own", the former cabinet minister and union leader Alan Johnson has said.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is mulling his precise package of reforms to the union-party relationship, and Johnson urges him to opt for radical change. Writing in Progress magazine, Johnson warns: "A perception that Labour is in the pocket of the unions is damaging to the party and to the trade union movement. The precious link between Labour and the unions becomes a liability rather than an advantage when it is allowed to look like a transaction."

He praises Miliband for raising reform, but clearly would like the package to extend to the party conference, leadership election rules and composition of the party national executive.

Miliband is believed to be focusing on requiring union levy payers to be asked to sign up to an associate party membership. He also wants to reform the leadership electoral college so that only party members and new associate members can vote on a one-member-one-vote basis.

The Labour national executive is due to look at detailed plans on 4 February before a special conference on 1 March. Johnson, a former general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, says that in reality the present Labour system is "OMMV (one member, multiple votes) and NMOV (non-member, one vote).

"It is very kind of us to offer political opponents a vote in electing our leader but I doubt if our generosity will be reciprocated. And asking voters to tick a box to say they support our objectives is not exactly a failsafe way to prevent outside interference," he writes.

"Levy payers have been the ghosts in our machine for too long. It is time to admit that auto-enrolment is right for a pension scheme but wrong for a political party – particularly a party whose leader wants to forge a new kind of politics based on transparency, openness and integrity".

Johnson adds: "There is no earthly reason why affiliated unions should have 50% of the vote at conference. The input of trade unions is invaluable at conference, the national policy forum and the national executive committee (where the presence of members and local councillors need to be increased). But it should not be exercised through disproportionate, antiquated voting procedures".

Johnson denies that the reforms would jeopardise the party's finances, saying: "If we agree the basic principles of one member, one vote and individuals joining the party through a conscious decision, everything else – including finance – will fall into place. It is the principles that need to be the starting point, not the finances."

Miliband has also been warned that the rules for electing the Labour party leader must be changed or his other wider party-union reforms will leave individual trade unionists with twice as much voting power as mainstream Labour party members. Without reform to the electoral college for the leadership, a union member's vote could be worth as much as 40 times more per pound contributed to the party than that of a party member.

Labour leaders are elected through an electoral college in which union political levy payers have a third of the vote, Labour MPs and MEPs a third and party members a third. But in a broader reform, Miliband plans to require union political levy payers to make a positive decision to become associate members of the party, rather than being affiliated to the party by union headquarters. Miliband wants this new breed of associate union members to be given an equal vote in the Labour leadership on a one-member-one-vote basis alongside party members.

The concern among some constituency members is that if Miliband does not force through these reforms and the existing electoral college is left unchanged, the value of an associate union member's vote will balloon compared with that of an ordinary party member. An associate union member will pay £3 a year while the average party member pays more than £50 a year.

Mark Wickham-Jones, a professor of politics at Bristol University, said it was widely accepted that a shift to requiring union levy payers to make a positive decision to become an associate party member would reduce the number of affiliated union members dramatically, possibly to well below a tenth of the 2.3 million political levy payers currently affiliated to the party. Turnout in the union section in 2010 was 7.7% of the 2.7m ballot papers sent to union affiliates.

Wickham-Jones said: "At present Labour claims 180,000 full members, and the number of associate members might fall to below that figure. In the 1994 Labour leadership election, won by Tony Blair, nearly 800,000 union affiliates and 170,000 party members voted.

"In 2010, the election won by Ed Miliband, it was 211,000 and 127,000 respectively. As a result, the ratio of union to party members has fallen from 5:1 to 2:1." He argues that with contracting in, the ratio is likely to be closer to 1:2.

He says "So an individual trade union vote will be worth more than an individual members - clearly an anomalous and indefensible position. Contracting in makes the whole thing unworkable in anything like its present form. Each trade unionist or society affiliate would end up with more say than an individual member. Put simply the electoral college has to go and be replaced by a more workable, fair and realistic structure."

6% = 70% = 90% (26 September 2010)

The Labour party's electoral college makes about as much sense - as one of the Mad Hatter's tea parties. 

But to be fair it has done what it was designed to do - which is to give union leaders undue influence over key party decisions - by 
galvanising a small handful of union activists to vote in a particular way or, as in this case, for a particular candidate.

Democracy it ain't - instead it's all about machine-like, Tammany Hall politics - also known as vested interests and raw power.Consider for a moment the voting figures which decided who would be the next Labour leader - and potentially, at least, the country's next Prime Minister.

199,671 trade unions votes were cast in the trade union section of the electoral college - 80,266 for David Miliband and 119,405 for Ed Miliband.

Before the ballot took place the unions were boasting that around 3,500,000 trade unions members would be invited to vote - in a veritable orgy of union democracy.

Yet the turnout of around 6% means that ordinary union members voted with their feet - apart from a tiny number of union activists - who have no claim to represent the views of the wider membership.

The voting figures also confirm that Labour's electoral college is to democracy - what Alice in Wonderland is to quantum mechanics.

Because the Miliband of brothers received the votes of 122,806 individual Labour party members - 66,814 for David Miliband and 55,992 votes for Ed Miliband.

Before the ballot - Labour claimed 170,000 members would be entitled to vote - so the turnout of party members is respectable - at just over 70%.

MPs voted in even greater numbers, as you would expect, and cast 262 votes in total - David Miliband receiving 140 and his brother Ed receiving 122 - so the turnout amongst MPs was well over 90%.

Yet all three sections of the electoral college get the same weighted vote - i.e. 1/3rd, 1/3rd and 1/3rd.

So the end result is that some votes are much more equal than others.

In Labour's electoral college reality is turned on its head - much like Alice in Wonderland - with the incredible effect that somehow or other - 6% = 70% = 90%.

Whatever this is it's not democracy - more trade union members voted (199,671) than the entire Labour party membership (122,806) - which just about says it all.

Maybe these people were Tory, Lib Dem or SNP supporters - seeking to influence the outcome - who knows?

But what we do know is that the new Labour leader was not elected by his own party members - which is a sad day and a bad day - for anyone with a passing interest in democracy.

Useful Connections (4 November 2013)

Why is Johann Lamont (Labour's Scottish leader) a member of Unite? - is a question I've been asking myself over the past few days.

Now it's not such a weird thing to ponder as readers might think - because according to the Register of Interests at the Scottish Parliament - Johann is also a member of the EIS which is Scotland largest teaching trade union (Educational Institute of Scotland).

Which is understandable because Johann Lamont was a teacher before she became an MSP back in 1999 and - who knows - maybe Johann will return to the classroom when her political career comes to an end.

Another reason that Johann's membership of the EIS is not unusual is that many MSPs and MPs - if they were a member of a particular trade union before entering politics, retain that connection once they get elected to parliament at Holyrood and/or Westminster.

Maybe this comes down to nostalgia, but whatever the reason it doesn't raise many eyebrows or do anyone visible harm.

So, so what? - in other words.

But what I don't get is why would someone want to join a second trade union - one which they've had no connection with previously, especially if their membership looks completely contrived and artificial which is how things look to me in terms of Johann Lamont and Unite.

I should say that Johann is not the first Labour MSP or MP to look like a 'fish out of water' when it comes to her choice of trade union - because Scotland's first First Minister (Donald Dewar) was a member of what is now the RMT (Rail Marine and Transport) union even though Donald was a solicitor by profession which always struck me as crazy.

Anyway, back to Johann who like the UK Labour leader, Ed Miliband, owes her victory in the leadership ballot to trade union votes as the following post from the blog site archive shows.

And having looked up the Register of Interests for Ken Macintosh MSP - who was the victor and vanquished at one and the same time - I can report that Ken was not a member of Unite, the trade union.

Funny that.

Labour Loser Wins Again (18 December 2013)

The new leader of the Scottish Labour party - Johann Lamont - has not been elected by individual Labour party members.

In the individual member section of Labour's barmy electoral college - the votes cast were as follows:

Tom Harris - 3.444%
Johann Lamont - 12.183%
Ken Macintosh - 17.707%

Total - 33.33%

Now the reason that the total adds up to 33.33% instead of 100% - is that party members have only one-third of the votes - which sounds completely bonkers because it is completely bonkers.

But in most other political parties this would have produced the following result:

Tom Harris - 10%
Joahann Lamont - 37%
Ken Macintosh - 53%

Total - 100%

So Ken Macintosh won an overall majority in the ballot of individual Labour party members in Scotland - of whom there are less than 20,000 these days.

And no wonder because they don't even get to elect their own leader.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of the Labour party two more sections of the 'electoral college' come into play - one for parliamentarians (MSPs and MPs) and the other for trade unions.

So out of the total number of ballot papers sent out - well over 300,000 according to Labour - less than 20,000 are for individual Labour party members - 100 or so are for MSPs and MPs - and around 300,000 are for non-Labour party members in the trade unions.

Which means that 20,000 votes - has the same value as 100 votes - has the same value as 300,000 votes - or to put it plainly some votes in the Labour party are much more equal than others.

Not everyone votes of course which distorts the picture even further - but the turnout figures have still to be released for each section - and will make interesting reading at some point.

Ironically, Labour's new deputy leader in Scotland - Anas Sarwar - has been elected by ordinary party members who voted for him by a majority of 61% - despite a trade union campaign to elect one of his rivals.

So Scottish Labour has ended up in exactly the same position as the UK Labour party - they have a new leader - but one who has been rejected by ordinary party members.