Following its shocking election defeat on May 7, British Labour will be holding an election for a new party leader. Unlike previous elections, there is no obvious candidate and the field is likely to be wide open. The Labour leadership election will be held concurrently with London Mayoral candidate and Deputy Leader election with results announced at a special conference on September 12.
Importantly, it will be the first Labour leadership election since the end of the Electoral College model. MPs and union members will no longer have separate votes. Instead, a closed primary will be run where members, individual members of affiliated unions who opt-in and supporters who pay a small fee will be able to vote in a One Member One Vote system. The timetable and process for the elections are available here.
The most interesting aspect of the Labour leadership election (for those outside of the United Kingdom) will be how opt-in union affiliation works in practice. It is the first big test of opt-in union affiliation, which Ed Miliband brought in last year and may shape the debate in Australia. There are already a number of high profile advocates of opt-in affiliation within the ALP.
It is difficult to estimate the number of union members who will opt into affiliation. In the 2010 leadership election, approximately 240,000 union members voted. Union members were all sent postal ballots which would have increased turnout. It has been estimated that only around 10% will be the proportion of trade unionists that will opt-in, but it may be lower. According to Labour Uncut, estimates of the potential number of trade union voters have ranged from 25,000 to 80,000. Some though are predicting that union members could cast more than half of the votes (250,000 out of an estimated 400,000 voters) in the contest, though that seems unlikely.
Concerns were raised, before the election rules were finalised by the National Executive Committee, about how many union members had opted in. Labour’s largest affiliate, Unite, has said it had only just begun signing up members. A longer race means more time for unions to engage with their members and get them to opt-in. August 12 will be the last day to join as a member, opt-in as an affiliated member or register as a supporter.
Whatever the result is, the level of participation by union members in the British Labour leadership election is likely to influence debate here about opt-in affiliation and how much of a say affiliated unions get over preselections and National Conference.