Monday, 25 June 2007

Lessons from the Labour deputy-leadership race

It’s a good job I’m not a betting man, because I would have put my money on Alan Johnson winning the Labour deputy-leadership election.

As it happens, he was beaten into second place at the very last minute by Harriet Harman, losing by less than a percentage point on the final round. Interestingly, the shortfall was almost exactly the same in the first and final rounds.
What is far more interesting, however, is that John Cruddas won the first round, and Harriet Harmon came second. Their success carried them all the way to the penultimate round. Thus, despite Peter Hain’s early ejection, this suggests that there is still a lot of life left in what is usually called the “left” of the party, and what I might prefer to call the socialist wing, Old Labour or (borrowing some of their own more irritating semantics) the “unreconstructed” elements within the Labour Party.

What is also fascinating and shocking is the turnout: at least a couple of MPs and MEPs failed to vote, but more notably, almost half (46%) of members did not vote either. This suggests that a large part of the party was either unimpressed by all the candidates (and this seems unlikely, as the offered genuine diversity and choice) or believed that the vote was of little importance or value. With Harriet Harman now elected, we can expect that the post will prove of little importance or value, too.

As for levy-paying members of affiliated Trades Unions, just 8% bothered to cast votes. This last raises some interesting questions. If only 8% of levy-paying members bothered to vote, what proportion are actually interested in Labour Party matters? What proportion are even supportive of the Labour Party? And perhaps most importantly, what proportion are actually aware that they pay the levy?

If I understand correctly (and please let me know if I’m mistaken) Trades Unionists pay the levy automatically unless they specifically opt out. If this is the case, then this vote raises the spectre that a huge proportion are paying the levy unwittingly. If so, there may be a case for legislation requiring Trades Unions to reverse this situation, so that would-be Labour supporters must actively opt into levy-paying.

In the meantime, Liberal Democrats would be well advised to draw to the attention of Trades Unionists that they may be unwittingly funding a Party that they do not support, and perhaps oppose. A case for a publicity campaign, perhaps?

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