A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Unions elect Labour's new leader
26/09/2010 07:17:00

There's been a lot of discussion in Conservative circles about which of the Miliband brothers we would prefer to be elected as Labour Leader. "Sources close to the Prime Minister" have briefed the media that he believes David Miliband would be a more formidable opponent. I'm not so sure - although the elder Miliband has a better understanding of where Labour needs to position itself, his younger brother is a more effective communicator.

But the actual result is surely the worst possible outcome for Labour - Ed Miliband has won, despite not being the choice of Labour MPs or Labour Party members, because he secured very strong support from the trade unions and other organisations affiliated to the Labour Party. Even when union and affiliated organisation votes were taken into account, he wasn't ahead on first preference votes - he only won because he received more of the second, third or even fourth preference votes from people whose first choice was Diane Abbott, Andy Burnham or Ed Balls (this is of course the electoral system which could replace the first-past-the-post system we use for General Elections depending on how we vote in the referendum next May - today's result is a good example of how treating a fourth preference vote as equivalent to someone's first preference does not necessarily produce a fairer result).

It will be interesting to see whether David Miliband takes a position in the Shadow Cabinet or retires to the backbenches. Given that he was clearly better qualified for the job in terms of experience and that the two brothers have always been very close, Ed's decision to stand must have put a real strain on their relationship. I thought he conducted himself with real dignity yesterday.

Finally, I suspect Ed Milliband may regret the "millions of people are better off thanks to Gordon Brown" line in his victory speech. Pretty much everyone in the country is going to be paying higher taxes for years to come and face cuts in public services because of the huge budget gap Gordon Brown ran up. Add to that, the way he sold our gold reserves at rock bottom prices and wrecked our pension system and, despite the fact that he got some things right, Mr Milliband's claim looks pretty hard to justify.

UPDATE: The website Inside Croydon has responded to this post with a piece entitled "Croydon MP Gavin Barwell comes out against democracy". Accusing people who don't agree with you on a point of detail (in this case, what particular electoral system we should use) of not believing in democracy/fairness/equality/human rights is a bell weather sign of a weak argument so I won't bother responding to it but there are two statements/implications in the post that need correcting and unfortunately the author of the blog doesn't have sufficient confidence in their arguments either to allow comments or to identify themselves, in which case I could raise the issue with them personally.

First, my blog is clearly political in tone and therefore is paid for by Croydon Central & South Conservative Federation, not out of my allowances.

Second, I am in favour of some reform - specifically, fairer boundaries, individual registration to improve the accuracy of the electoral register (the list of people entitled to vote) and a second chamber elected by a proportional electoral system.

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Readers' Comments

On 29/09/2010 18:26:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
Gavin, we're all very good at playing the system alternative vote system in the Labour Party.

If AV or AV+ comes in, I'm sure the electorate will get good at playing it too.

In fact, sometimes I wish we'd had First Past the Post because it'd have reduced the number of calls for my second and third preference votes!

As with any such internal party election, the kind of people who bother to be party members are pretty much the kind of people who are very good at tactical voting.

It was indeed very, very close but then David Miliband is too funny to be Leader of the Labour Party anyway.

In reply to your curiosity about how Labour's electoral college works in practice and how much sway the Unions actually do have, an MP's vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member's vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member's vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent (although these figures assume all affiliated members bother to vote - see http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/08/vote-worth-labour-mps-members)

On 30/09/2010 07:44:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

Thanks for the comment but I think this analysis is rather misleading. The truth is that the votes of members of trade unions who have not opted out of the political levy and members of affiliated organisations count for a third of the total however many of them vote. As I understand it, the turnout in this section of the electoral college was just 8 per cent. I also understand that members of some unions received a letter endorsing Ed Milliband in the same envelope as their ballot paper, which is wholly contrary to standard electoral practice.

I understand the historic link between the trade union movement and the Labour Party but many of us find it strange that you can elect a leader who was not the choice either of your MPs and MEPs or of the people who positively choose to pay a membership subscription.

On 30/09/2010 10:52:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
Gavin - this is true, I make the point about how the New Statesman's figures assume everyone in the Unions etc would have to use their vote to make those statistics reality. However, to say that because people have chosen not to use their vote means they have no say is not true either. The Labour party still has more internal democracy than the Conservative party (cough cough Pellingate cough). "I also understand that members of some unions received a letter endorsing Ed Milliband in the same envelope as their ballot paper, which is wholly contrary to standard electoral practice" I could not possibly comment but since Unions collectively endorse particular candidates anyway I think that, if true, that is naughty/cheeky rather than a scandal.



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