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.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.