Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Elections
25 September 2010

Labour’s voting system: the case for reform

The vote of one MP is worth the votes of 608 party members.

By George Eaton

Andy Burnham yesterday became the first of the Labour leadership candidates to criticise the party’s voting system and the disproportionate power that MPs wield under it.

As I’ve pointed out before, the party’s tripartite electoral college (divided between MPs/MEPs, party members, and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies) means that some votes are worth significantly more than others. The vote of one MP is worth the votes of 608 party members and 12,915 affiliated members. The vote of one party member is worth the votes of 21 affiliated members.

The system, which dates from 1993, is an improvement on what came before. In the pre-1981 era, leaders were elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party alone and until 1993, affiliated societies controlled 40 per cent, rather than 33 per cent, of the vote. But the electoral college system puts Labour out of step with the Tories and the Lib Dems, which elect leaders using a one-member-one-vote system.

It would be a mistake for Labour to adopt this system in its purest form. It is both just and necessary for affiliated trade unions, as the founders of the party, to have a say over the leadership. But the extraordinary power held by the PLP can no longer be justified.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

As a Guardian editorial warns today, a leader could one day be elected without the majority support of ordinary party members. Labour’s new leader should act to ensure their successor does not suffer this fate.