Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Which "non-mad" electoral system would actually be sure of stopping Jeremy Corbyn?

If you think some of the coverage of the Corbyn surge in the UK press has been a tad hysterical, you should check out a mad rant by The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan, which includes this gem -

"[Corbyn] is the frontrunner to be the new leader of the British Labour Party. This is a truly dismal prospect. But first a word on process. Only a mad process could produce a potential result as mad as this."

Really? Is it true that Corbyn could not possibly win under any "non-mad" electoral process? Let's consider the possibilities...

1) The current system as nature intended. Some people argue that if only MPs who support "mainstream" candidates hadn't inexplicably nominated Corbyn, the parliamentary veto system would have worked as intended and Corbyn's candidacy would have been blocked. The snag is, though, that the caricature of a hopelessly naive MP wanting to "broaden the debate" is in most cases bogus. These people generally had some kind of self-interested motive (currying favour with local left-wing activists, seeking London mayoral votes, etc, etc). In any case, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and now that it's been demonstrated that there is widespread support for a radical left candidate, the pressure on MPs to nominate at least one such person in future contests will be irresistible.

2) A straight one person, one vote system restricted to full party members only. Probably wouldn't have made much difference - according to the most recent YouGov poll, Corbyn would have a lead over Cooper of 57% to 43% in the final run-off if only members had been given the vote.

3) A one person, one vote system restricted to people who have been full members for at least five years. This could hardly be called a 'natural' system, but even such a drastic attempt at gerrymandering might not have done the trick - YouGov have the race as a statistical tie between Corbyn and Cooper among people who have been members since before Ed Miliband became leader.

4) The old electoral college. Corbyn would have had a mountain to climb, given that the one-third section of the college reserved for parliamentarians would have practically voted as a bloc against him. But remarkably, his lead among members and affiliates looks so substantial that he might well have had a chance of climbing that mountain. It would have been tight.

5) A return to the old MPs-only vote (no longer used by any UK party). This certainly would have stopped Corbyn - but it wouldn't have precluded the possibility of other results that Mr Sheridan would doubtless consider "mad". In 1980, Michael Foot defeated Denis Healey to become Labour leader - and he did it by 139 votes to 129 in the party's last ever MPs-only vote.

* * *

While I'm at it, I may as well run through some of the factual inaccuracies in Mr Sheridan's piece, because there's an impressively long list of them.

"In the last British Labour leadership election there was a new and odious system, a three-way electoral college — one-third of votes for MPs, one-third for affiliated unions and one-third for rank-and-file party members."

I'm not sure how that can be called a "new system", given that it was first used for Tony Blair's election as leader in 1994. It was a modified version of a system that dated back to Denis Healey's famous win over Tony Benn in the deputy leadership contest of 1981 - previously the split was 40% for trade unions (voting as a bloc), 30% for members and 30% for MPs. Both Neil Kinnock and John Smith were elected leader on that basis.

"But in Britain, with no tradition of [a US-style primary system], the system is ripe for manipulation by a tiny activist minority."

This tiny activist minority makes up almost 1% of the entire population of the UK.

"Tony Blair, the only man in 60-odd years to win clear parliamentary majorities for British Labour..."

Harold Wilson won a majority of 96 in the 1966 general election.

"There are, of course, plenty of specific British factors at work here. Labour lost Scotland, which was not only a huge chunk of its old core vote but a part of its vote that kept it in some measure tethered to reality, because Scotland was a place where to some extent it actually ruled."

That claim sounds superficially credible, until you remember that there has never been any time in history when Labour was in power in Scotland but not in the UK. The Scottish Parliament hasn't been around for long enough for that to be the case.

But apart from all these minor quibbles, what a fabulously well-researched article, Mr Sheridan.


  1. Des the Australian support that anti Scottish bigot and Cameron's pal Abbot by any chance?

  2. I was thinking who can/will serve in a Corbyn Shadow Cabinet? Never mind a full Frontbench.

    The Shadow Cabinet needs around 30 MPs.

    Corbyn supporters I can think of are:

    Dennis Skinner, Michael Meacher, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Jon Trickett, Graham Allen, Clive Efford, David Lammy, Clive Lewis and errr thats it



  3. I find foreign interpretations of UK politics to be almost always flawed in some way - often bordering on the ridiculous.

    I remember one American commentator around 2002/03 arguing that the then landslide majority labour government should enter into a WW2 era style national coalition with the conservatives in preparation for the war against Iraq.

    1. Aye, it's like English papers / English people talking about Scottish politics; generally clueless (unless they've lived here a while anyway).

      And of course it works the other way; even with active effort I still know / understand very little about the politics of England.

    2. "Aye, it's like English papers / English people talking about Scottish politics; generally clueless (unless they've lived here a while anyway)."

      Not even remotely true from my experience - and the idea that Scottish people know little about the politics of England is frankly bizarre given the coverage of English issues in the UK media. I'm fully prepared to believe that you don't know anything about English politics, but don't generalise your ignorance to the rest of us (if you don't mind).

    3. So you are saying I should read the Telegraph, Daily Mail, English Sun etc if I want accurate articles on Scottish politics?

      It's just I've don't that before and e.g. read that Murphy would lead a major fightback in last May's election. Also, according to the Telegraph, Scottish people have blue + white faces and jimmy hats.

      Sure I know the main issues that folks in England seem to be concerned about, from polls and newspapers etc. But if you want to really understand what makes a country tick politically / how people there will vote, you really need to live there (or at least spend a lot of time talking to people who do).

      I stand by my statement. I find it arrogant for people to claim they know the politics of another country really well from reading their own country's news about it.

      In the meantime, with your expertise on England, you will be able to tell us all what we are dying to know; will people in England back Corbyn leading to a Labour victory?

      I suspect not, but I'm not sure.

      I can predict that Kezia is not going to lead a Labour resurgence here though. Why, because 3/4 of the folk I know wouldn't ever consider voting Labour right now, and that includes Yes and No people.

    4. Aldo, why do you troll sometimes and make fairly non contentious comment at others. We'll probably rarely agree with you on this site, but you are welcome ot debate, but to troll never.

  4. Corbyn has stated he wants a Shadow Cabinet drawn from all wings of the party. I think he will try very hard to get Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham involved - at the very least, Burnham might (-perhaps hoping to have a third crack at the crown in 2017). Apart from that, I imagine Tom Watson and perhaps Stella Creasy Angela Eagle will get a job, and some of the newer MPs such as Lisa Nandy, Rushanara Ali etc. I assume that in some cases careerist considerations might motivate those MPs not that enamoured of Corbyn to take a post.

  5. Don't get into a fight in a bar if you and the bartender aren't in first name basis. Same should go for political analysis.

  6. The Australian is a Murdoch rag, its extreme right wing commentary on Australian politics is also a load of rubbish

  7. SuperPayMe is an high paying work from home website.