Guest post: The Labours of Left-wing Leadership

By @KaroriBee

Labour’s problem is not that they have too much democracy but that they have a crony democracy. Remember when Labour first used their leadership selection 13 months ago? There was a lot of “oh aren’t WE democratic”. Yeah… not so much haughtiness this time around. Instead, there are grumblings that democratically choosing their leader is a problem.

First off, let’s look at how Labour’s process actually works.

It begins when caucus expresses no confidence in the leader or they resign. Not the members. Caucus.

Only Labour MPs may stand for leader. Votes are divided between caucus, members, and affiliated unions (40%, 40% and 20% respectively). Affiliated unions (either via delegates or as members) are weighted down to 20% of the total votes, with each union being weighted again depending on how big it is. Labour uses a preferential voting system, so if no candidate reaches >50%, the person with the fewest is disqualified and their voters’ second choice is redistributed until someone has >50%.

If that seems a little confusing, it’s because it is; and not to mention heavily weighted towards one particular special interest group – caucus.

Now let’s compare that with the process used in the Greens.

1) The Greens’ co-leaders are elected annually at the party conference. Let me repeat that: the co-leaders are elected annually.
2) Nominations are open to any member of the party (i.e. not just MPs) with at least 6 months’ participation.
3) Voting is preferential.
4) Votes are allocated to branches according to size. All branches get one vote, with an extra for every hundred members. No branch can have more than four votes.
5) There’s an option to vote ‘no confidence’ and re-open nominations. If there’s only one person standing, they need to win >75% of the vote. Can you imagine the conniptions if this was allowed in Labour?

The Greens’ process ensures everyone has roughly equal influence, there is a high level of participation, and the power of MPs is checked.

Leadership transitions in the Greens have been relatively smooth. That’s not to say supporters of Nandor Tanczos and Sue Bradford were thrilled to lose, but they respected the members’ decision with dignity.

Which takes us back to Labour. If the members reappoint Cunliffe against the wishes of caucus, it will be a crisis, presumably because the membership made the “wrong” choice. How is that possible, if you actually believe in democracy?

Democracy has meant ‘rule by the mob’ since ancient Greece. If you want democracy, you need to learn to accept the decisions of the mob.

Perhaps it’s time for Labour’s caucus to remember what ‘democracy’ means.
And while they’re at it, they might want to look up ‘oligarchy’ and take a good hard look in the mirror.


2 thoughts on “Guest post: The Labours of Left-wing Leadership

  1. Hmmm. But the actually existing Labour caucus is right there, right now, and can’t be made to leave en masse. In fact dislodging them is remarkably difficult, because electorate MPs can only be rolled if the LEC gets taken over by outsiders, while list MP selection is heavily influenced by the leader, by caucus reps and often by their unofficial proxies in the list moderation process.

    Without fixing the relevant constitutional mechanisms for candidate selection at the same time, I think a more democratic leadership selection process will fare no better.

    I think we need to look past what an awesome constitutional arrangment would be (though we should strive to achieve it) and figure out how to get a caucus-membership rapprochement going, which is purely a political, diplomatic, human beings relating kind of issue. If that can’t be solved then dreaming of ideal constitutional arrangments is pointless, because the party will be dead before they can be put into place. Telling the caucus to shape up is pointless because they can’t be rolled en masse (and imagine the wider political consequences if they were, anyway). Conceivably a rump of electorate MPs with strong personal organisations could actually run an MMP-overhang fuck you Labour members party. There have to be other solutions than mutually assured destruction for activists/members and the caucus.

    I’m not sanguine about the prospects for a negotiated peace, mind you, but it seems to me like the option you pursue first before constitutional reform.

  2. […] There are a also political realities to consider. Garner thinks the Greens should be more green and less red, and should be open to dealing with National. If only it were that simple. However, as @KaroriBee explained recently, the Greens are an extremely democratic party. The leadership can’t just decide to go into coalition with National; the membership could vote them out in under 12 months. […]

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