How the Labour leadership result changes under a one-member-one-vote system

Had MPs' votes been treated in the same way as party members', Ed Miliband would have won a landslide victory.

One of the likely consequences of Ed Miliband's decision to introduce a new opt-in system for donations to Labour from affiliated trade union members will be a major change to the party's leadership election system. At present the decision lies with an electoral college split three ways between the party's 272 MPs and MEPs, all party members (193,000 at the last count) and members of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies (around 2.7 million). 

But should Miliband make all trade unionists who choose to donate full members of the party (as his speech on Tuesday implied), the third of these sections would effectively cease to exist (most socialist societies already require their members to be members of Labour). This would inevitably raise the question of whether the party should introduce a pure one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system, with MPs' votes no longer given greater weight than those of party members. As I noted in 2010, Labour is the only one of the three main parties which does not give the final say to individual party members. Under the electoral college system, the vote of one MP is worth the votes of 608 party members and 12,915 affiliated members and the vote of one party member is worth the votes of 21 affiliated members.

But would a one-member-one-vote system have changed the outcome in 2010? Earlier today, I reran the election using a OMOV model to discover the answer. It's not a perfect simulation; I don't have the data needed to strip out multiple votes (most MPs, for instance, had at least three votes by virtue of their membership of affiliated societies) and it's hard to know how many trade unionists would have participated under an opt-in system, but it's the best guide currently available. 

While the result does not change significantly (all the candidates finish in the same position, except Diane Abbott, who leapfrogs Andy Burnham and Ed Balls in the first round), it is notable that Ed Miliband's margin of victory increases dramatically from just 1.3 per cent to 8.8 per cent. Since David Miliband won the MPs' section by 140 votes to 122, his share is heavily reduced under a OMOV vote. He also won the party members' section by 66,814 to 55,992, but Ed's huge lead among affiliated members (119,405 to 80,266) means he pulls ahead. 

Given how often it's claimed that he wouldn't have won without the support of the "union barons" (the "block vote" was abolished by John Smith in 1993), Miliband's speech was, among other things, a subtle reminder that it was thousands of individual votes that delivered him victory. 

Here's the new result in full (you can view the actual result here). 

2010 Labour leadership election result under one-member-one-vote

Round One

1. Ed Miliband 125,649 (37.1%)

2. David Miliband 114,205 (33.8%)

3. Diane Abbott 35,259 (10.4%)

4. Ed Balls 34,489 (10.2%)

5. Andy Burnham 28,772 (8.5%)

Round Two

1. Ed Miliband 137,599 (41%)

2. David Miliband 118,575 (35.4%)

3. Ed Balls 40,992 (12.2%)

4. Andy Burnham 38,050 (11.4%)

(Since Abbott was eliminated in the first round in the actual contest, I have had to use Burnham's numbers.)

Round Three

1. Ed Miliband 149,675 (45.3%)

2. David Miliband 127,389 (38.5%)

3. Ed Balls 53,669 (16.2%)

Round Four

1. Ed Miliband 175,519 (54.4%)

2. David Miliband 147,220 (45.6%)

Ed Miliband's margin of victory increases from 1.3 per cent to 8.8 per cent under a one-member-one-vote system. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Low turnout may not be enough to save Zac Goldsmith

Demographic patterns in mayoral elections do not replicate those at general elections. 

It is a truism in politics to say that older people vote. Almost exactly a year ago - the day before the General Election - ComRes published a briefing note for our clients pointing out that with large leads particularly amongst older people, as well as among the affluent and those who owned their home, the Conservatives were in the dominant position as the country headed to the polls.           

Turnout is one of the most difficult parts of polling to get right, but history was unequivocal in suggesting that these groups were overwhelmingly the most likely to vote in a General Election. This gave David Cameron the advantage, whatever the headline numbers in the polls were saying, and Labour would need a change in behaviour of historic proportions in order to make it to Downing Street.           

It is in the same spirit that a number of commentators have written articles raising the prospects of an upset in the election for Mayor of London. Different arguments have been used, but the central thrust has tended to be that, despite Sadiq Khan’s lead overall, there are turnout advantages not picked up in polling which benefit the Conservatives and which could produce a shock result.            

This is the first point made by Asa Bennett when advising “Don't write Zac Goldsmith off as London Mayor – he can still win this thing”, while Adam Bienkov has suggested that a low turnout “will inevitably help the Tories, whose voters tend to be older, wealthier and more likely to turn up to the polls.”           

While these arguments make intuitive sense, they make one fatal assumption: that demographic patterns in mayoral elections replicate those at general elections.           

Firstly, it is important to point out that there are no exact numbers on who actually votes at elections. The paper copies of marked electoral registers are kept separately by local authorities and contain no demographic information anyway.            

Instead, we know who votes in General Elections because in places where the population is older, turnout tends to be higher than in places where it is younger. Communities with more middle class and affluent constituents have higher turnouts than more deprived areas.      

The graphs below show the relationship between the socio-economic make up of a constituency’s population, with the proportion of people who turned out to vote at the last General Election. As can be seen, the higher the proportion of constituents who come from the most affluent AB social grades, the higher the turnout was in the constituency. On the other hand, turnout was lower the higher the proportion of a constituency’s population came from the least affluent DE social grades.

Now this all fits with expectation. But the rub comes when we run a similar exercise on the last mayoral election in 2012. If we look at the age profile of individual electoral wards, we would expect to see those with a higher proportion of older people have a higher level of turnout at the election. “Older people vote” after all.

But if we look at the data, a different picture emerges. The graph below shows all the wards in London, and the relationship between the proportion of people aged 55 and over in that ward, and the proportion of people who turned out to vote. And the picture is surprising but clear: there was almost no relationship between age and likelihood to vote at the last mayoral election. 

As the graph shows, there is a very slight incline upwards in the trend-line as the proportion of 55+ constituents increases, but the fit is very loose. The individual data points are scattered all over the place, far from the line and indicating an extremely weak relationship – if any at all (this wouldn’t pass a statistical test for the presence of a correlation).

The case is similar if we use with proportion of 18-34 years – or for that matter, the proportion of a ward’s population which owns their home. Despite some commentators suggesting homeowners are more likely to vote, the data suggest this is not the case at mayoral elections.

Another common trope is that “the doughnut may yet do it” for the Conservatives, with turnout being lower in inner London, where Labour does better, and higher turnout in the leafy suburbs therefore delivering victory for Zac Goldsmith. Again though, this claim does not really stand up to reality. If we look at average turnout in inner and outer London boroughs, it has not been noticeably higher in the outer ring of the doughnut since 2004. In fact, at the last mayoral election, average turnout was slightly higher in inner London boroughs than it was in outer London boroughs.

There is one final possibility, which has become a higher profile issue in the current contest than in the past: that there is a racial element in Londoners’ likelihood to vote. This is important because Zac currently leads Sadiq Khan by seven points among London’s white population, but is 31 points behind among BAME Londoners. If white Londoners were much more likely to vote therefore, there is an outside possibility that Zac Goldsmith could sneak a result.

Once again though, the data suggest this is not the case – there was very little relationship between a ward’s ethnic profile and its level of turnout at the last mayoral election. The predominantly white wards on the left hand side of the chart below include the wards with the highest turnout – but also most of the lowest. There is little to suggest that the predominantly BAME wards necessarily have a lower level of turnout than the London-wide average.

Overall then, there is little relationship between turnout at mayoral elections and age, home ownership, suburbia or ethnicity. It is within this context that much of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign, which has raised controversy in some areas, should be seen. Seeking to link Sadiq Khan to Islamic radicalism is not necessarily about trying to get people to change how they will vote, but more to provide an incentive for older voters in outer London to go out to the polling station and to drive up turnout among Conservative-leaning groups.

In turn, the hope is also to reduce the motivation to vote among Labour-leaning voters by creating an element of doubt in the back of the mind and to dampen enthusiasm (“Meh – I’m not sure I want him to be elected anyway”). The leaflets targeting Hindu and Sikh households are perhaps also similar examples of this - if not converting your opponent’s voters, at least reducing their affinity to him (or her).

Of course, it could also have the opposite effect. Rather than making Labour-leaning voters less likely to vote, Goldsmith’s campaign may have provided them with more of a reason to make the trip to the polling station, in order to stop a campaign they see as racially-charged and a threat to London’s status as a beacon of successful multiculturalism.  

Either way, if such tactics are to work, the Conservatives will need to overturn the turnout trends seen in 2012 to a very large extent. 

London is famously a city where relative wealth and deprivation sit closely alongside each other. Mews housing Georgian terraces meander into streets containing chicken shops, homeless refuges or council estates; Londoners of all backgrounds subscribe themselves to the same crush of the Tube at rush hour. For whatever reason, London also has not the stark variations in propensity to vote between different social groups seen in national elections. Turnout may hold the key for Goldsmith, but it would represent a rupture of historical trend, rather than an expression of it.