Friday, 13 November 2009

Who to vote for?

At the risk of Adam Higgitt withdrawing his kind words, I'm going to make a comment on the curious way in which the Labour Party electoral college works. The spur for this is the discovery that a member of my local branch of Plaid Cymru – someone who's been a party member for over 30 years, and who thought that she had made it clear that she had no wish to pay her union's political levy – has received a voting paper for the Labour Party's leadership election.

Or has she? The Labour Party's processes are pretty arcane in many ways; but if I understand the process correctly, what trade union members have been given is not actually a direct vote in the leadership election itself, but a vote in an internal union poll which decides how the union's block vote is then distributed. The 'value' of an individual member's vote may thus be rather detached from the concept of one member, one vote.

I'm sure that someone from the Labour Party will correct me if I've actually got this totally wrong, but the number of members affiliated by any one union (and thus the number of votes allocated to that union) does not necessarily seem to be the same as the number of members paying the political levy (which explains why the numbers affiliated seem to be mostly nice round numbers). A union may choose to affiliate a smaller number, and thus pay less money, or even a larger number, and thus gain more votes.

If I'm right, that means that a union with 20,000 affiliated votes then casts 20,000 votes in the electoral college, even if they've only got 10,000 members paying the political levy, and even if only, say, 50% of those then actually vote. That's certainly what I understood Lee Waters to be saying, when he noted "Unions will have to ballot their membership and then divide their vote proportionally according to the wishes of their membership.".

It's the first time, I think, that I've ever seen a ballot paper which includes clear advice telling people for whom they should vote, given that the union concerned has chosen to support one particular candidate. It's also the first time I've ever seen a ballot paper which asks the voters to confirm that they are actually eligible to vote before they cast their vote, by ticking a box to confirm that they are not a "supporter of any organisation opposed to" the Labour Party.

There must be hundreds of members of other parties who have been given a voice in an internal election as a result of the curious process used, and as a member of an alternative political party, there's an obvious temptation for a bit of mischief making by recommending one candidate or another. But I couldn't honestly advise any Plaid member to tick the box confirming that they do not support an opposing organisation, and on balance, my advice would be to not interfere.

But to anyone in the Labour Party who's reading – you really do need to look at how you get yourself in a position of inviting members of other parties to participate in your internal election.


Illtyd Luke said...

My mother who is a Plaid member and a member of a trade union has also received a ballot. She isn't interested in the race but there is clearly a window of opportunity for people that have an agenda, to have a vote.

Of course, there might be an opportunity in this situation for Labour to claim how deeply their roots go into Welsh society, in that their election embraces people who aren't in the party or are even opposed to the party.

That would contradict the partyist 'Labour's needs come first' stance that the two male candidates at least seem to be adhering to.

Pelagius said...

The amount of time Plaid Cymru members are spending on this farce confirms just how Labour devolution has absorbed Welsh nationalism. It is the tar pit of the independence movement. And, of course, even if Plaid preferred a particular candidate, any sign of support would be counter-productive. Thus the rise in support of the most British nationalist, Huw Lewis who, I predict, will win. Labour members want revenge for devolution and the coalition.

This is threatening to become a repeat of the time in 2000 when Plaid AMs naïvely paved the way for St Rhodri, prolonging actual, if not electoral, Labour hegemony to date. In evidence, look at the political affiliations of quango appointees.Wales is still Labour-run.

To paraphrase Tallyrand, Plaid AMs have learned little and forgotten much.

Anonymous said...

Labour should be worried about Plaid making an issue of having so many members having a vote, as it is very good evidence that the current affiliation tick box system is being abused, to raise money for Labour.
An incoming Tory Government (not that I want one) will surely sort this out, denying Labour of funds that they are currently receiving, without the knowledge or consent of the union members.