How Labour's proposed new leadership election system would work

The introduction of a one-member-one-vote system would dramatically reduce the disproportionate power wielded by MPs.

For the first time since Ed Miliband announced his intention to reform the relationship between Labour and the trade unions, the party has confirmed that its leadership election system will change as a result. A Labour spokesman told The Staggers:

Ed has always been very clear that the scale of the changes that he wants to make are likely to have consequences for other rules and structures of the Labour Party. He does want to change the way that we elect our leader and our deputy leader, and we are going to continue discussions on that.

The most radical option on the table is to introduce a full one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system. At present the decision lies with an electoral college split three ways between the party's 272 MPs and MEPs, all party members (187,000 at the last count) and members of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies (around 2.7 million).

But with Miliband planning to make all trade unionists who choose to donate associate members of the party, the third of these sections will effectively cease to exist (most socialist societies already require their members to be members of Labour). It this that has raised the question of whether the party should introduce a OMOV system, with MPs' votes no longer given greater weight than those of party members and individuals no longer to vote multiple times (by virtue of their membership of two or more affiliates). 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.

One potential stumbling block to reform is the role of MPs, some of whom will resent having their influence diluted. But one compromise Miliband is exploring is to allow MPs to nominate leadership candidates in advance (as the Conservatives do), before they go forward to a full ballot  of the party membership. This would eliminate the risk of members electing a leader who lacks sufficient support in the PLP.

Incidentally, while some have suggested that Miliband would have lost the 2010 leadership election under the proposed new system, the truth is that he would have won by a larger margin. Since David won the MPs' section by 140 votes to 122, his share is heavily reduced under OMOV. He also won the party members' section by 66,814 to 55,992, but Ed's large lead among affiliated members (119,405 to 80,266) means he pulls ahead.

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 owing to 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.

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 speaks at the 2010 Labour conference after being elected leader. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.