Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Labour Leadership - why the Union ballot will help in the subsequent General Election

The 1993 changes to the Labour party leadership contest rules introduced "One Member One Vote", where the electoral college involving Affiliates such as unions, would be decided by a ballot of union members who had chosen to remain affiliated to the Labour party. Some 700,000 union members participated in the ballot that elected Tony Blair in 1994.

The Blair leadership election was 12 years ago. Since then, the relationship between the party and the union leadership has cooled, and the relationship with actual union members is distant. Many union members would have abstained in the last general election, or even voted for other parties.

The forthcoming leadership election therefore gives the Labour party a chance to re-connect again with this group of voters.

The graph on the top left shows the % of all employees who are members of unions. According to the Office of National Statistics, 26.2% of all employees belonged to a union in autumn 2005, a total of some 7.5 million people. There are a few interesting features about union membership at the moment - a greater percentage of female workers belong to a union than men. A third of employees who are aged over 35 are union members compared to a quarter of those aged between 25 and 34. Union density is at it's strongest in Northern Ireland (40.4%), it is 36.5% in the North East and 22.4% in the South East.

This is potentially a huge electorate and this will be the first time in an age that they will be personally involved in Labour party business.

We should do everything we can to encourage them to participate in the leadership ballot. Given our parliamentary democracy, it's not often ordinary people get the chance to directly elect the new Prime Minister of Britain. The larger the group that participate in the vote, the greater will be his legitimacy. It would be lovely if several million participated. In addition, those who feel they had a direct say in who the next Prime Minister was, would feel more inclined to turn out and back him in the General Election that follows. Party members and activists should therefore be thinking now about how they can encourage participation and turnout of union members in their ballot for the leadership election.


Anonymous said...

I think the unions involvement is positive (even if the opposition will try to spin in a different direction). I would try to eliminate the multiple vote though (ex people members of the party, then of an union and then of a Socialist Society).

Anonymous said...

I agree, the union vote could be a positive thing for Labour.

Bottom line is we will get slated by the other parties for appearing 'undemocratic' so we need to meet that charge head on