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.

Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell don’t need to stand again as MPs – they’ve already won

I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. 

We’re a week in to the campaign, and it’s clear that the 2017 election is going to be hell on toast. The polls show the Tories beating Labour in Scotland (for the first time in a generation) and Wales (for the first time in a century). The bookies put the chances of a Labour majority at around 20/1, odds that are striking mainly because they contain just one zero.

The only element of suspense in this election is whether Theresa May will win a big enough majority to keep Labour out of power for a decade, or one big enough to keep it out for an entire generation. In sum: if you’re on the left, this election will be awful.

But there was one bright spot, a deep well of Schadenfreude that I thought might get us through: the campaign would provide plentiful opportunities to watch the people who got us into this mess be humiliatingly rejected by the electorate yet again.

After all, Ukip’s polling numbers have halved since last summer and the party has fallen back into fourth place, behind the pro-European Lib Dems. Nigel Farage has failed to become an MP seven times. It thus seemed inevitable both that Farage would stand, and that he would lose. Again.

If the vexingly popular Farage has never made it to parliament, the odds that his replacement as Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall (the Walter Mitty of Bootle), would manage it seemed minimal. Ukip may have won last year’s referendum; that did not mean its leaders wouldn’t still lose elections, preferably in the most embarrassing way possible.

The true highlight of the election, though, promised to be Clacton. The Essex seaside town is the only constituency ever to have returned a Ukip candidate at a general election, opting to let the Tory defector Douglas Carswell stay on in 2015. But Carswell’s libertarian belief that Brexit was definitely not about immigration always seemed an odd fit with Ukip, and he left the party in March. In the upcoming election, he seemed certain to face a challenge from the party’s immigration-obsessed donor Arron Banks.

The Clacton election, in other words, was expected to serve as a pleasing metaphor for Ukip’s descent back into irrelevance. The libertarians and nativists would rip chunks out of each other for a few weeks while the rest of us sniggered, before both inevitably lost the seat to a safe pair of Tory hands. This election will be awful, but Clacton was going to be brilliant.

But no: 2017 deprives us of even that pleasure. Carswell has neatly sidestepped the possibility of highlighting his complete lack of personal support by standing down, with the result that he can tell himself he is quitting undefeated.

Carswell has always stood apart from Ukip but on this matter, at least, the party has rushed to follow his lead. Arron Banks spent a few days claiming that he would be running in Clacton. Then he visited the town and promptly changed his mind. At a press conference on 24 April, Paul Nuttall was asked whether he planned to stand for a seat in Westminster. Rather than answering, he locked himself in a room, presumably in the hope that the journalists outside would go away. Really.

As for Farage, he seems finally to have shaken his addiction to losing elections and decided not to stand at all. “It would be a very easy win,” he wrote in the Daily Tele­graph, “and for me a personal vindication to get into the House of Commons after all these years of standing in elections.” He was like an American teenager assuring his mates that his definitely real Canadian girlfriend goes to another school.

Why does all of this bother me? I don’t want these people anywhere near Westminster, and if they insisted on standing for a seat there would be at least the chance that, in these febrile times, one of them might actually win. So why am I annoyed that they aren’t even bothering?

Partly I’m infuriated by the cowardice on show. They have wrecked my country, completely and irrevocably, and then they’ve just legged it. It’s like a version of Knock Down Ginger, except instead of ringing the doorbell they’ve set fire to the house.

Partly, too, my frustration comes from my suspicion that it doesn’t matter whether Ukip fields a single candidate in this election. Theresa May’s Tories have already assimilated the key tenets of Farageism. That Nigel Farage no longer feels the need to claw his way into parliament merely highlights that he no longer needs to.

Then there’s the fury generated by my lingering sense that these men have managed to accrue a great deal of power without the slightest hint of accountability. In the south London seat of Vauxhall, one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in one of the most pro-Remain cities in the UK, the Labour Leave campaigner Kate Hoey is expected to face a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats. Even Labour members are talking about voting tactically to get their hated MP out.

It remains to be seen whether that campaign succeeds but there is at least an opportunity for angry, pro-European lefties to register their discontent with Hoey. By contrast, Farage and his henchmen have managed to rewrite British politics to a degree that no one has achieved in decades, yet there is no way for those who don’t approve to make clear that they don’t like it.

Mostly, though, my frustration is simpler than that. I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. I want to see them stumble from gaffe to gaffe for six weeks before coming fourth – but now we will be deprived of that. Faced with losing, the biggest names in Ukip have decided that they no longer want to play. And so they get to win again. They always bloody win. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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