Only a small number of union members are opting into (British) Labour Party affiliation

I have previously written about the push to change how unions affiliate to the Labor Party. Currently unions affilate on behalf of their membership but there have been calls to change this so individuals must opt-in to be counted for affiliation. British Labour has adopted it and there are advocates within the ALP pushing for it to be embraced here.

The big question has always been: how many affiliated union members will opt-in? In the 2010 Labour leadership election, 238,618 union members cast a vote but over two million ballots were mailed out. Any opt-in process would mean the number of voters would fall significantly. Estimates had ranged from 25,000 to 80,000 but a recent news article suggests it might be lower.

The New Statesman has reported that in London, only 1,197 members of affiliated unions have opted in. To give some context, Labour’s largest affiliated union, Unite, has 200,000 members in London and the most recent publicly available data indicates that 21% of Labour Party members are in London.  With Labour’s membership now in excess of 220,000, affiliated union members seem likely to be less than 10% of the vote in the upcoming British Labour leadership contest.

There are still two months left for union members to opt-in for the leadership ballot with 12 August being the last day to register. It, however, seems that even 25,000 may not be reached considering Unite has only just started getting members to opt-in since the election.

If the number of union members that affiliate to British Labour for the contest is tiny, it seems likely that the enthusiasm for opt-in affiliation amongst many in the ALP will disappear. It is possible that it will evolve into a much clearer debate about whether the current labourist model should be ditched and the party should move to a One Member One Vote model. Each model has its problems and while “breaking the link” is often floated by those who decry trade union influence, the Nordic experience of cutting links shows that the result is not always predictable and may not be the best outcome.

Whoever wins in the British Labour leadership won’t really matter to the ALP but the number of union members who opt-in and participate in the election will. We should pay attention to the contest because it will shape the ongoing debate about the ALP-union link and whether the “labour party” model is truly dead.

UPDATE 16/6/15: GMB have said 10,000 members have registered as affiliated members and Unite is said to have similar numbers, however, Labour says only 2,500 have completed the process & paid a fee.

UPDATE 24/06/15: LabourList has been provided with the numbers of members and supporters. So far only 9,115 registered supporters and 3,788 affiliated supporters will be able to vote. Total Labour Party membership is 246,469.

UPDATE 12/07/15: Unite is claiming 50,000 members have opted in as affiliated supporters.

UPDATE 15/07/15: Unite has stated it is aiming to get 70,000 members to become affiliated supporters by August 12.

UPDATE 17/07/15: The Evening Standard is claiming it has seen figures suggesting 65,000 union members have registered.

UPDATE 12/08/15: The latest breakdown is 70,000 registered supporters (16%), 92,000 affiliated supporters (21%), 282,000 members (64%)

UPDATE 13/08/15: The Labour Party has revealed total figures of those who applied for a vote: Affiliated: 189,703, Registered: 121,295, Members: 299,755, Total: 610,753.

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One thought on “Only a small number of union members are opting into (British) Labour Party affiliation

  1. […] I have been sceptical of opt-in affiliation for unions and whether it would engage members of affiliated unions. While initial registration figures made me question my scepticism, the low turnout suggests that union member engagement, even amongst those who opted-in, is not high. […]

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