Comparing the rules of labour parties

The successful campaign to directly elect the ALP leader has meant there is widespread knowledge about how sister parties such as the British Labour Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party elect their leader.

There, however, continues to be limited knowledge about other internal aspects of our sister parties. Given the continuing debate over affiliation, the selection of delegates and the election of officebearers within the ALP, greater knowledge of how similar parties operate would improve the party reform debate.

The following tables are an attempt to provide some comparative examination of labour parties in the English-speaking world. It covers who can affiliate, how the allocation of Conference delegates is determined and how party officebearers are elected.

The information in these tables is based on most recent publicly available information.



Party Who can affiliate? How affiliation occurs? Other relevant clauses
UK Labour
  • Trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress or considered bona fide trade unions
  • Co-operative societies
  • Socialist socieities
  • Other organisations which have interests consistent with the Labour Party
  • Organisations may, subject to the decision of the National Executive Committee, which shall be final and binding, affiliate to the party. Each affiliated organisation must:
  1. accept the programme, policy and principles of the party
  2. agree to conform to the constitution and standing orders of the party
  3. submit its political rules to the NEC
  • Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, having their own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.
  • The panel of the NEC responsible for assessing applications from socialist societies to affiliate to the party shall have regard to procedural guidelines determined by the NEC, which are available from the Compliance Unit
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • Affiliation is open to trade unions, farm groups, co-operatives, women’s organisations and other groups
  • An application for affiliation must be made to the Executive and include:
  1. evidence that the organization officially supports the NDP and
  2. confirmation of the number of NDP members within the applicant organization
NZ Labour
  • An affiliate of the Party is any Trade Union or other organisation which has applied for membership, subscribes to the Constitution and Policy of the New Zealand Labour Party, and has been approved by the New Zealand Council
  • Affiliate membership shall be decided by a majority of votes cast of the affiliate and affiliation should be in accordance with the percentage of the votes cast. All members of an affiliate must be given adequate notice and an opportunity to vote on affiliation. The question of affiliation must be decided by either a ballot of the members of the affiliate proposing to affiliate or, in the absence of a ballot, by a method of formal determination that is certified as satisfactory for the purposes of proving proper procedures for formal determination of the question of affiliation
  • The names and addresses of members of affiliates shall be made available to the General Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Party for the purposes of inspection only, in connection with verifying the eligibility of affiliated members to take part in the constitutional processes of the party at electorate level. Such lists remain the property of the affiliate
Irish Labour
  • Trade unions, sections or divisions of unions that are not themselves group members, professional associations, co-operative societies and other organisations which subscribe to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accept this Constitution are eligible for group membership of the Party
  • Applications for group membership shall be made to the Executive Board. Every applicant for group membership shall make, through a duly authorised officer, a declaration that the group subscribes to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accepts this Constitution
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • All bona fide unions shall have the right to affiliate to the ALP
  • This right to affiliate shall not be impaired unless it can be demonstrated clearly that the relevant organisation is not a bona fide union or that the organisation has engaged in conduct that renders it unsuitable to be affiliated

N.B: Affiliation may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Conference delegations 

Party Rank-and-file delegation Union delegation Rules around delegations
UK Labour
  • 1 delegate for the first 749 individual members
  • 1 further delegate per additional 250 members or part thereof
  • Where the individual women’s membership in a
    constituency is 100 or more, an additional woman delegate may be appointed
  • 1 delegate per 5,000 members or part thereof
  • Where membership is less than 5,000, an additional woman delegate may be appointed if the women’s membership is 400 or more
  • Delegation should include women at least in the proportions in which they are represented in that organisation’s membership
  • at least every second delegate from a CLP shall be a woman; where only one delegate is appointed this must be a woman at least in every other year
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • 1 delegate per 50 party members
  • 1 delegate per 50 members
  • Canadian Labour Council entitled to 4
  • Unions with at least 1 affiliate entitled to 2
  • Provincial federation of labour with at least one affiliate shall be entitled to 2
  • Each affiliated labour council with at least one local affiliated shall be entitled to 2
  • Union delegations are based on number of affiliate members who are party members
NZ Labour
  • A minimum of 4 plus one more delegate for every 50 members or part thereof
  • 1 delegate for membership not exceeding 200
  • 2 delegates for membership from 201-500
  • 3 delegates for membership from 501-1000
  • 4 delegates for membership from 1001-1500 with 1 extra delegate and vote for each additional 500 members or part thereof
  • No affiliate may exercise more than 12 votes unless it is represented by at least four delegates
  • All delegations comprising of two or more delegates shall ensure that women are part of their delegation
  • Any such organisation that does not must justify their absence and will lose one vote. If no acceptable justification is provided they will lose all but one of their voting entitlement
Irish Labour
  • 2 delegates for membership not exceeding 10 with 1 additional for every 5 additional members and an 1 additional for every 10 affiliated individual members
  • Constituency members (members in an electorate who aren’t in a branch) elect the number of delegates they’re entitled to as if they were a branch
  • Less than 50 members – 1 delegate per 5
  • Above 50 but less than 500 – plus 1 per 10
  • Above 500 but less than 1000 – plus 1 per 15
  • For additional members above 1,000 – plus 1 per 20
  • Delegates are elected by group members, in accordance with the following scale of individual members of each group member who are branch members of the Party
  • In any election of more than one member or delegate to Party Conference, not fewer than 30% of those so elected are women and not fewer than 30% are men.
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • 12 per state plus twice the number of electorates in that state as at the previous 31 December
  • 2 per territory plus twice the number of electorates in that territory as at the previous 31 December
  • In Tasmania, 50% are elected by members in a postal ballot and the remained by state conference
  • In NSW, one delegate will be from each Federal Electorate Council
  • No separate union delegation to National Conference, elected from State Conferences.
  • In all states, the state conference shall comprise 50% union representatives and 50% constituency Party representatives
  • Not less than 40% of a union’s delegation shall be women, and not less than 40% shall be men. Provided that if the level of male or female membership of a union is less than 40%, the minimum representation shall be set at that level
  • It shall be the right of each union to determine the criteria and procedures for selection of its delegates, subject to those delegates being financial members of that union and of the Party
  • All elections, other than public office, for three or more positions, shall comply with the affirmative action model. Not less than 40% of such positions shall be held by women, and not less than 40% by men, provided that sufficient candidates of the relevant gender nominate. If the calculation to determine the basic entitlement results in a fraction of one half or more then the basic entitlement shall be the next higher whole number, and where it results in a fraction of less than one half it shall be the next lower number.

N.B: Union delegate numbers may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Election of Officebearers 

Party What officers How are they elected?
UK Labour
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair
  • General Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • The General Secretary shall be elected by conference on the recommendation of the National Executive Committee (NEC)
  • NEC shall elect its chair and vicechair at its 1st meeting each year
  • Treasurer elected by an electoral college of votes from members by OMOV and by affiliates
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Vice President Labour
  • Treasurer
  • National Director
  • President, treasurer is elected by all delegates
  • Vice President is elected by caucus of delegates of the linguistic language group other than the President’s i.e. if President is Anglophone, Vice is Francophone
  • Vice President Labour is nominated by a caucus of labour delegates and ratified by the Convention 
  • National Director appointed by Officers and raitifed by Council
NZ Labour
  • The President of the Party
  • A Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • A Maori Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • An Affiliate Vice-President of the Party
  • A Pacific Islands Vice-President of the Party
  • A Women’s Vice-President of the Party
  • A Youth Vice-President of the Party
  • A Rainbow Representative
  • General Secretary
  • All except the General Secretary are elected by the delegates assembled at the Annual Conference
  • The General Secretary shall be confirmed by Annual Conference and hold office on terms and conditions agreed with the New Zealand Council
Irish Labour
  • The Party Chairperson
  • Party Treasurer
  • General Secretary
  • Chairperson and Treasurer is elected by the Party Conference
  • The General Secretary is appointed by the Executive Board, following an open competitive process conducted under the authority of the Party Leader and with the approval of the Board
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • President, Senior Vice President, Junior Vice President
  • National Secretary
  • Assistant National Secretaries
  • The National President and 2 National Vice-Presidents must be directly elected by members 12 months before each triennial Conference in a single ballot by proportional representation
  • National Secretary shall be elected by the National Conference and re-elected at every second Conference
  • Assistant National Secretaries elected by the National Executive/li>


The Australian Labor Party is the only party that does not include a clause to allow affiliation by organisations that are not trade unions in its rules. All other parties specifically allow affiliation by non-industrial organisations.

The ALP is also the only party that has a fixed proportion of union delegates on Conference floor. Elsewhere, more members increases the size of Conference and the size of union and rank-and-file delegations are not automatically linked. Almost all others have a system where delegations are tied to the number of members (union and party). Depending on the exact rules, union delegations range from between 20% to 50% of Conference floor.

The Canadian NDP and Irish Labour also differ from other parties as the number of delegates from affiliates is based on the number of individual members of the party who are affiliate members. Both, however, are third parties, not one of the major parties in their parliamentary party system.

Interestingly, Australian Labor Party is alone in having the direct election of officebearers. All other parties elect their officebearers through Conference delegates or through the National Executive (or equivalent) of their party.

What this comparative exercise shows is that the ALP’s internal structure operates very differently from other labour parties in the English-speaking world. These differences should be acknowledged and understood when debating party reform to ensure a more informed discussion occurs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s