Update 18:43: Uncut’s source are now telling us that the only trade union voters in Labour’s next leadership election will be those who have opted-in as associate members. Events have been fast moving and over the week and the shape of the final proposals is thought to have been evolving in the past few days. Given the potential for a contest in 2015, this would likely mean that only a small number of trade unionists would take part.
10% is often cited as the proportion of trade unionists that will opt-in, but many suspect the reality will be lower. The comparatively short time period between when the rules are ratified at the special conference in March and a potential leadership election in late 2015 means the unions will only have a narrow window to recruit associate members from the ranks of their 2.3m affiliates.
Estimates of the potential number of trade union voters for a 2015 leadership election that have been suggested to Uncut range from 25,000 to 80,000. This would mean trade union votes would be below the third guaranteed by the electoral college and if so, would represent a major concession from the leaders of the trade unions.
Had the 2010 leadership election been run with the electorate likely in 2015, David Miliband would most probably be leader of the Labour party today.
by Atul Hatwal
Uncut has learned that the next Labour leadership election, expected in 2015 if the general election is lost, will be conducted under a one-off mix of existing and new rules. The result will be that this electorate will be dominated by 2.3m union members – over 13 times the number who are full Labour party members (180,000).
At the special conference in March, a new set of rules on trade union members’ relationship with the party will be passed. A new category of member, “trade union associate” will be created. This will be for trade unionists that actively opt-in to supporting Labour and will be phased in over 5 years.
New trade union members will be given the choice of opting-in to the Labour party and becoming an associate immediately with discussions ongoing on how the existing base of affiliates will be transitioned over – if at all.
The big change to be passed straight away will be the move to OMOV for the Labour leadership election. The difference in timing between the roll-out of the associate member category and the shift on leadership election will have far reaching implications for Labour.
It means that the at the next Labour leadership election the electorate will be the same as at the last election, but the rules will be OMOV.
Just as at the last leadership election, the Labour party will not have any access to the 2.3m affiliates membership details and candidates will not be able to communicate with these voters directly.
This is because the affiliates will not have had a chance to opt-in to supporting the Labour party and so, under data protection rules, their personal details will not be allowed to be passed to Labour.
Everything will have to go through the union.
At the last leadership election turnout among the trade union affiliates was extremely low, but even then, 240,000 trade unionists, often activists, voted.
Under the old rules of the electoral college (where trade unionists had a third of the total vote), Ed Miliband’s success among the unions meant he narrowly won the leadership, despite having been soundly beaten in the other sections of the electoral college – MPs and members. If the last election had been conducted under OMOV, Ed Miliband would have won by a far more comfortable margin.
Politically this block of union votes will act as a sheet anchor, holding any leadership hopeful to the left, preventing any movement towards the centre.
Speculation at Westminster is mounting today that the rule change amounts to Ed Miliband’s personal insurance plan.
If Labour lose the next election he will almost certainly be challenged. With this new leadership electorate, any challenge from the centre is likely to fail while his position on the centre left, plus his status as incumbent, would substantially bolster his chances of retaining the leadership.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut